Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More and Less

It started with a simple question my classmate asked me while we were on the shuttle: "After taking anatomy, do you think you're more or less likely to want to donate your body to medical science?"  I paused, sat back.  It was--to borrow a cliché--really complicated.

How much did I know about the fate of a donated body before I stepped into the anatomy lab in scrubs with scalpel in hand?  On one hand, thinking of young aspiring physicians, I could have romanticized the role of a donor.  The invaluable experience of learning from flesh rather than books.  The indelible impact of feeling for organs, finding them, taking them out of their cavities, scrutinizing them, remembering them, and using the knowledge gained to cure others.

However, the past six weeks have been graphic.  Sterile donor consent forms are not sensual experiences.  They do not show the prodding of genitals and orifices with probes.  They do not replicate the sound of sawing the skull in two.  They do not convey the smell of rummaging through the bowels, or the feel of dry, leathery flesh.  Now that we are "informed"--in every sense of the word--would we want the same fate for our own bodies?

Or--now, do we even more acutely realize and appreciate the significance of such a gift?  Would this inspire us to want to give back to future generations of those like us?

Curiosity led me to send out a one-minute, five-question survey to my 200 classmates.  I received 75 responses.  The raw results are below.  In the next post, I will analyze these numbers further and discuss them.

Rather predictably, more students--nearly 50% more--began to think about their own body donation after taking anatomy.  No one who had answered "yes" for the former question answered "no" for the latter.

Before taking anatomy, about one third of students considered themselves "likely" or "very likely" to donate their bodies.  After taking anatomy, this fraction dropped a bit.

The more striking difference was the increase in students unlikely to donate their bodies after taking anatomy.  Fewer than half considered themselves "not likely" or "not at all likely" to donate beforehand.  After the course, that number grew to greater than half.

To note:

No one in any instance who had answered “yes” for the previous questions (they had thought about body donation) left these questions about likelihood blank.

Before anatomy: Since only 44 students claimed they had thought about body donation, I expected to receive this number of responses for the follow-up question.  However, 11 people most likely interpreted the question conditionally ("If you had thought about body donation, how likely would you have been to donate?") and thus answered.  I kept their responses for completeness.

After anatomy: Once again, based on the last question, I expected to receive 65 responses.  Similarly, I am including the extra 5 answers for completeness.

These results are consistent with the findings that taking anatomy caused more students to become less likely to donate their bodies.  Several questions remain.  How often did students experience complete changes-of-heart, such as switching from "likely" to "unlikely"?  Did students with stronger feelings about their likelihood of donating stick with them more steadfastly?  How did the 21 students who had not thought about donating their bodies before anatomy feel after it?

Since I have the individual surveys, I can be transparent and specific.  Next post coming soon.


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