Extra corpses needed for University of Hong Kong despite rise in donors
City's medical schools have long struggled with a shortage of cadavers for study, with tradition meaning many people are reluctant to donate
Donations of human cadavers to the University of Hong Kong's medical school have tripled this year, but the institution says it still does not have enough.
The school received 39 corpses - up from the 13 donated last year and the five in 2011.
The city's medical schools have long struggled with a shortage of donated corpses, which students need for anatomy studies. Traditional Chinese culture requires as much respect as possible for the dead, with most Chinese reluctant to agree to donate their bodies upon death.
But Chan Lap-ki, associate professor in the university's department of anatomy, said more cadavers were needed for students to carry out higher research. "The more training and research we can conduct on a body, the more chance we have of coming up with a better way to perform surgery," Chan said. "Donations are really an important contribution for everyone."
The school needs at least 20 corpses per year to give medical students basic training. But more donations would mean the school could conduct advanced research, which had been suspended for the past few years because of the shortage, Chan said.
Chinese University's medical school is also short of corpses.
Meanwhile, in Tseung Kwan O, a new memorial wall opened last week for people who donate their bodies for medical training. The names of these "silent mentors" would be engraved on the wall as a mark of respect for their generosity, said Brenda Lo Mei-wah, executive director of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries management board.
Their ashes can be scattered, free, in a memorial garden, which is open for relatives and loved ones to visit.
Chan said he hoped the new arrangements would encourage more people to sign up to HKU's donor registry, which has seen registrations jump from about 600 last year to 2,500 this month.
Its medical school received a total of 55 corpses this year - 39 were donations and 16 were cadavers that were not claimed from public hospitals. At present, each corpse is shared by about 10 medical students at HKU during their training.
Chan said the school welcomed any cadaver donation, regardless of gender, disease, or whether organs had already been donated. "We can take 60, or even 100 bodies [per year]. The more, the better," Chan said.
"If there are not enough corpses for training in the future, the students may have to train on computer software."
Chan said that although traditional ideas about keeping the body intact after death were still prevalent, he believed things were changing. "One [registered donor] once told me that he would rather a doctor make thousands of mistakes on his dead body so that he would not make one mistake on a patient who was alive," Chan said.