Text by Eliane Kaaij & photography by Dirk de Jong
For some people, making a contribution to society does not stop at the moment of death. Many choose to donate their organs, and some opt to donate their body to science. The VU University Medical Center is a place where, through writing a testament, an individual can donate his or her body to the hospital and university for teaching and research purposes. The dissection room of the department of Anatomy and Neurosciences is the place where medical students first come in contact with the human body to receive education in anatomy. In a safe and controlled educational environment, they make their very first acquaintance with these bodies. Surgeons practice new techniques and scientists gratefully use human tissue to do their research. This can only be done because of the people who have decided to donate their remains to the VU University Medical Center at the end of their life. When a person signs up for body donation, this can be difficult for the family. When a donor dies, there is a period of 24 hours within which the body has to be brought into the facility. Family members can organize a memorial on their own, but their loved-one is no longer present. We realize that this may leave a need in family members to deal with the passing of their beloved.
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“Decisions, decisions, a kingdom for a fair, properly balanced and consistent decision in medical experimentation with humans”, paraphrasing a famous statement this sums up the primary task of the Medical Research Ethics Committees (MREC; in Dutch: METc) operating in the western world, including the Netherlands. Sounds clear enough, doesn’t it, but is that really so or is the job set for MREC’s not as unequivocal as it appears and therefore open for multiple interpretations and ways of reaching decisions?
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