Body donation is a weighty matter

Barbara King gives a shout-out to the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee (“Cremation, burial, or Body Farm?”).

Twenty-two years ago, Dr. William M. Bass founded the Body Farm, or, as it's properly known, the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center (UTFAC). Today it's a leader in a field populated by programs it inspired, as a newspaper article last week informed me.

Last week a science news story went around that medical schools don’t want to accept obese body donations (“Nobody wants a chubby corpse”). The embalming makes them too heavy for the dissection tables, the story went, and medical students are supposed to learn “normal” anatomy, not “abnormal” obese people.

What America are these anatomy programs living in?

At any rate, my first thought was that forensic anthropology programs would be happy to get a broad representation of donated remains. Many of the qualities that have been developed to distinguish sex and age from the skeleton depend on samples donated 80 years ago or more. Today’s weightier population differs – bone size, robusticity, and age-related changes all vary with body mass. Doing good forensics on today’s population takes a more updated sample, of the sort that continues to be built beneath the Tennessee football stadium.