Free scattering of ashes offer helps ease shortage of cadavers for students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 7:55am

A shortage of human cadavers for the city's medical schools has been eased by an unusual offer - free scattering of your ashes when you die if you agree to donate your body for study.

The offer, launched by the management board of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries early this year, has prompted 149 people to register as donors. Their bodies will go to the medical faculty at Chinese University.

The city's medical schools have long struggled with a shortage of donated corpses, which students need for their anatomy studies. Traditional Chinese culture requires as much respect as possible be paid to the deceased, and most Chinese are reluctant to agree to donate their bodies.

The University of Hong Kong's medical faculty receives a maximum of five corpses each year. Many of the 20 corpses needed for research and autopsy training come from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which collects unclaimed corpses of homeless people.

Under the new offer, the bodies of people registered for the programme will given to the university for anatomical studies.

After use, the corpses will be cremated and the ashes scattered in a memorial garden in Tseung Kwan O managed by the cemeteries' board of management.

Donors will be commemorated with a plaque and the cost of the service, about HK$1,000, will be covered by the university.

James Ting Wai-ming, of Chinese University, said the supply of corpses from the government was unstable and university reform had resulted in a doubling of the intake of students, increasing the demand for cadavers.

"One positive sign is that our university's increased promotion in the community since 2011 has led to a tremendous increase in registered donors, from 25 in 2011 to over 420 last year," Ting said.

"This helps stabilise our supply. But the problem is that we don't know when the donors will pass away, so the more donors the better."