Dr. Newcastle's Botch-ster: Newcastle Medical School's cadaver controversy

Against argument: Josephine Melvin  Newcastle University’s medical school has been placed under a controversial light in recent weeks, concerning the (as some would deem it) inappropriate use of its donated cadavers. It has come to the attention of the press that these cadavers have been the subjects of beautician student’s study, with dissections of the […]

8th February 2016

Against argument: Josephine Melvin 

Newcastle University’s medical school has been placed under a controversial light in recent weeks, concerning the (as some would deem it) inappropriate use of its donated cadavers. It has come to the attention of the press that these cadavers have been the subjects of beautician student’s study, with dissections of the face to open students up to its anatomy.

The school states under its Body Donations page that the bequest of bodies ‘are used either to teach anatomy to medical and dental students, other health care professionals and therapists at Newcastle University, or for surgical training, education or research’. Whilst this does hold as an honest (yet vague) disclosure as to the school’s use of their donations, whether this is an appropriate way to utilise their cadavers is another issue altogether.

Whilst the knowledge of the facial anatomy could be seen as helpful for beauticians, all invasive procedures, with which a dissection and inspection of the face is an essential part of training, are done by medical professionals. It is wasteful to use a donated body for students who will not be performing dissections or any such invasive treatment to their future clients. The anatomy lessons are stretched to an unnecessary and inefficient depth.

It must be said that this issue has been sensationalised by the media, with The Sun’s heading reading ‘Bodies donated to medical science used for ‘botox training’, when it has been reassured by a spokesperson from the University that botox was definitely not injected into the face of the cadavers. Nevertheless, this use of the donations is not only wasteful, it is also degrading to those who have donated, most (if not all) of which have donated for the aiding in medical training and education. To handle these cadavers with a sole intent of aesthetics and vanity is completely disrespectful to the person they once were, who respected and supported the advancement of medicine so much so that they gave their body to help the cause. It contradicts the very reasons for donations, meant to help in the advancement of medicine and further health, of which botox and plastic surgery represents the mutilation, and further deterioration of healthy bodies. Even people within the field of cosmetics and beauty feel this is an inappropriate use of medical donations, with Fazel Fatah (former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons) stating that ‘this is nothing but an abuse of donated cadavers whose study is meant to promote health and science – not the opposite’.

The use of a body, donated in the name of medicinal education, for cosmetic/aesthetic study is not only insulting to those who choose to donate, but deconstructs the integrity of this sector to the school, further having an impact on the University. It is for this reason that the cadavers donated should be used solely in the advancement medical education, and with this upholding the core values of education this University is representative of, handling those who have donated with respect and dignity.

For argument: Emma Bancroft 

First and foremost, we really ought to detach ourselves from the emotive vocabulary we see employed by the press in the coverage of this issue, and instead, look at the facts. It is easy to let our judgement become clouded with such a delicate topic but it is important to consider all angles; there is no actual evidence to suggest that the beauticians ‘probed’ or ‘prodded’ the cadavers, and the implication that they were handled in a disrespectful way simply because they were being handled by training beauticians and not medical students is somewhat discriminatory.

It is unfair to discriminate against beauty therapists; it isn’t exclusively trainee doctors that require practical knowledge of anatomy and physiology that can only be gained by using real human bodies; other practitioners such as physiotherapists, dental students and of course, beauty therapists also deserve access to this opportunity. Beauty therapists have need of this chance in order to learn about the structure of the skin, ligaments and muscles of the face, and in order to improve the safety of patients undergoing treatment. It is paramount that all forms of treatment (whether it be cosmetic or medical) are thoroughly tested and, that those administering these treatments are fully trained and knowledgeable about the area in which they are dealing. If administered incorrectly, Botox can cause blindness, paralysis of incorrect muscle groups and disfigurement to the affected area.

One argument is that we shouldn’t be ‘abusing’ cadavers that have been donated in order to further our knowledge in cosmetic and apparently unnecessary areas such as Botox injections because this avoidable situation has come about due to vanity. Unbeknownst to many, the use of Botox in the cosmetic procedure of ironing out wrinkly faces is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the plethora of uses that Botox has in the realm of medicine. Due to its muscle-paralysing properties, Botox can prevent headaches in adults who suffer with chronic migraines, provide treatment for excessive sweating and deliver manageability for an over-active bladder. Furthermore, Botox injections have been used in the treatment of sufferers of cervical dystonia, blepharospasm and even neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.

There is also the argument that those who donated their bodies may not have fully realised that their bodies would be used in ‘this way.’ Newcastle University’s School of Medical Education states that bodies bequeathed to them are used in the teaching of anatomy to medical students, dental students and healthcare professionals or therapists or for surgical training, education and research. Since beauty therapists fit into the category of ‘therapists’ and in the context of what we are discussing were being ‘trained’ and ‘educated’, I find it difficult to see how it can be argued that the bequeathed bodies are being used for a purpose other than the one that they signed up for.

What other alternatives do we have? We would be having a human rights debate if somebody suggested that we should test Botox treatments on live human beings. Alternatively, we would have an animal welfare debate on our hands if animals were being used in order to make these practices safer. Why not a cadaver? Why not use somebody who has generously donated their body to science to their full potential? Not only could they help in training and education of doctors and dentists but also their priceless offering to science could be extended across even more disciplines and could help to make even more people comfortable and even more practices safer.

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