(If reading about dead bodies is hard for you, skip this one.)
For reasons that are neither especially morbid nor related to my current health, I was looking last night at a service called MedCure, which arranges autopsies, uses cadavers for medical research, and cremates after they’re done, all for free. (Frequent commenter Lisa Hirsch pointed out to me in conversation that autopsies are less and less common, due in large part to budgetary concerns, and that much useful knowledge is being lost.)
I clicked on the common questions, and got to “who cannot donate,” and here it is:
Suitable donors are U.S. Citizens free of an infectious disease or condition such as Hepatitis B or C, HIV/AIDS, active tuberculosis, history of illegal drug use, incarceration or severely under or overweight at the time of death.
The infectious disease issues seem straightforward enough. I can imagine that useful knowledge could be gained from cadavers of people who had HIV, hepatitis, or active tuberculosis, but I can also imagine risks and expensive extra precautions.
History of illegal drug use? Of course, it depends on what that means. I’m very close to 60 and I would conservatively guess that at least 80% of my age cohort in this country (including me), not to mention younger people, have some kind of history of illegal drug use, maybe thirty years ago and maybe last week. I imagine that they mean “certain illegal drugs used recently” or they wouldn’t get much resource material.
History of incarceration? Well, again that’s me, if you count a half-day in a cell after a political protest some forty years ago. It’s also way more common in my age cohort and younger than it was in my mother’s generation. Other than that, I can’t make any sense of this one. Some incarceration correlates with illegal drug use, of course. Some correlates with tax fraud. Mostly, it correlates with race, ethnicity, and class: could they really be trying to get mostly white middle-class corpses and using this way of saying it? Seems unlikely, but you never know.
And then, “severely overweight or underweight at time of death.” Well, first of all, a great many people are severely underweight at time of death, because many dying people stop eating. Comparatively few are severely overweight at time of death for the same reason, but it certainly happens. What does “severely” mean? By the ridiculous BMI charts, I’m noticeably more than 100 pounds “overweight,” but I’m active and healthy and not on the medications overweight people are presumed to take (blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin/blood sugar management). If the cost of transporting my corpse is the issue, I weigh roughly as much as an average pro football player, and a good deal less than an average offensive tackle, and I’m sure that MedCure would take those bodies.
I’m writing to them to ask what their issues are with underweight, overweight, and incarcerated. I’ll let you know what they say. But in advance of hearing from them, I can make a prediction: I suspect their reasons will have a slight medical overlay, but it will be easy to see that they are kneejerk social preconceptions disguised as science.
Let’s see if I’m right.