• death;
  • anatomical donor program;
  • cadaver dissection;
  • bequeath;
  • anatomy education


Given the important role that anatomical dissection plays in the shaping of medical student attitudes to life and death, these attitudes have not been evaluated in the context of whole body donation for medical science. First year students of anatomy in an Irish university medical school were surveyed by questionnaire before and after the initial dissection and again after 9 weeks of anatomical dissection. Analysis of student responses to the idea of whole body donation by an unrelated stranger, a family member, or by the respondent showed that a priori attitudes to donation by a stranger did not change with exposure to dissection. However, student opposition to donation by a family member was evident immediately after the initial dissection and was sustained throughout the duration of this study. Support for the idea of donating their bodies to medical science decreased significantly among respondents after exposure to dissection (31.5% before dissection, 19.6% after dissecting for 9 weeks) but not to levels reported in the general population in other studies. This study demonstrates that where dissection forms a part of anatomy teaching, students expect to learn anatomy by dissecting donors whom they do not know. As a potential donor population, students are reluctant to become emotionally involved in the donation process and are unwilling to become donors themselves. Anat Sci Ed 1:212–216, 2008. © 2008 American Association of Anatomists.