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Korean Catholics honor human body donors

Every November, people gather at a cemetery in Seoul to pay homage to those who donated their bodies to science

Jesuit priest offer a Mass at Yongjin Park Cemetery in Seoul in memory of late Jesuits

Jesuit priest offer a Mass at Yongjin Park Cemetery in Seoul in memory of late Jesuits. (Photo: Jesuit Conference of Asia-Pacific)

Published: November 24, 2022 11:37 AM GMT

Updated: November 24, 2022 11:59 AM GMT

Catholics in the South Korean capital Seoul joined a memorial Mass at the Yongin Park Cemetery to pay tributes to 6,000 donors who donated their bodies for scientific purposes in the last 55 years.

This annual commemoration takes place during the third week of November, a month dedicated to the departed souls in the Catholic Church.

The donation of bodies helps the medical community at the Catholic Medical Centre (CMC) and its eight affiliated medical schools to study anatomy, Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported.

The medical school states that as of now 36,000 volunteers have registered to donate their bodies as cadavers for educational and research purposes after death.

Cadavers that are received at the CMC are helpful for the students to study anatomy and are often used for specimen production with the consent of the donor.

"Body donation is an act of true love that contributes to the development of medical personnel and medicine by providing opportunities for live education and research to medical students and clinical professors who want to brighten the world with medical technology,” the CMC stated.

The CMC established the Catholic Institute for Applied Anatomy (CIAA) in October 1999 for the effective management of donated bodies through anatomical education and research related to donated bodies and for the development of basic and clinical medicine.

The goal of various activities done at the Institute using donated bodies is to fulfill the wish of all those people who had donated their bodies, which is “to combat disease through disease research by placing joint efforts with clinicians.”

However, at the CIAA cadavers are treated with the utmost respect by the teachers and students who study them says Jeong Yeon-joon, dean of the College of Medicine.

“Students at the College of Medicine at Catholic University regard all donors as a family before practicing anatomy and pledge a firm commitment to serve them wholeheartedly before engaging in the practice.”

“We will express our gratitude by contributing to the development of medicine through creative research based on the foundation and striving to nurture doctors who practice love,” says Jeong.

The students who conduct studies on the cadavers recite a prayer before and after the classes that involve managing a donated cadaver.

“I always pray before and after the anatomy practice,” said Seo Ye-Na, a sophomore at the Premedical Department of the Catholic University of Korea.

In addition to this, the Chaplain's Office of the College of Medicine and Nursing holds a special Mass on the third Thursday of each month to pray for all those who have donated their body for the cause of science.

Even the disposal of the corpse is done with reverence and respect instead of treating it as study material.

The CIAA collaborates with the funeral home at St. Mary's Hospital every month to cremate cadavers on which research and study have been completed.

The college bears the cost of cremation including the coffin, shroud, and religious articles related to the process.

The ashes are enshrined in a wooden box or jar in a temporary enshrinement hall within the research institute.

In addition, if a person requests a burial at the Yongin Park Cemetery, the grave will be maintained for up to 20 years by the university.

The number of donors willing to offer their bodies for research after death has gradually increased since the initiative started in the 1960s.

From the 1960s to the end of the 1980s cadavers were collected by the university through its district office in Seoul.

During that period, the cadavers received were mostly unclaimed bodies of people or those who were unidentified.

However, the number of cadavers received was so less in numbers until the late 1990’s that around 10 students had to conduct anatomy studies on a single cadaver.

By 1999, the number of cadavers received showed an increase, and groups of 4 to 6 students began studying a single cadaver.

Even though registrations are welcome, the university states that in rare cases the registration may be canceled.

This commonly happens in cases where bereaved family members oppose taking the body away, loss of contact, accidental death, or contagious disease.


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