This sacred body

We sang in the ‘Bodies service’ today, a thanksgiving service commemorating those who have donated their bodies to medical research at the university. The families and friends of the donors are invited and all of the medical students and staff have to attend.

It was a Christian service, but the chaplain acknowledged that many present may not be Christian. As my thoughts drifted between Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and about the resurrection of the body, I realised that religious people would be less likely to donate their bodies, or organs, to medicine than non-religious people. As far as I know, Muslims and Jews do not donate their bodies, and if some Christians are opposed to cremation, then they would also recoil at any perceived destruction or desecration of the body after death. But if you do not believe this, if the body becomes a mere shell to be discarded after death, then it would be easier to donate. If you’re not using it anymore, it might as well be put to good use. Though my own feelings on the matter are conflicted, I find this realisation saddening: for Christians, at least, are we not taught selflessness? If we trust in God to recreate decayed flesh, to bring up the bodies lost to the sea or in fire or in accidents, couldn’t we also trust God to recreate a body that has been donated for the betterment of humankind?

The speaker quoted from ‘Mediation XVII’ by John Donne:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

He also quoted a poem written by a donor to a medical student. It echoed Christ’s words at the Last Supper: ‘This is my body, given for you…’

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