Quinnipiac University, known for polling voters about their political preferences, is asking people a decidedly starker question these days: Would you like to donate your body for students to study when you die?
The university's new medical school announced this week that it's launching a body donation program as it begins teaching 60 students who will be part of the school's first class. The university says it's a way for donors to make a difference and to save money on funerals during tough economic times.
"It's not for everybody, but there are people out there that really want to contribute something even after they're gone and this is a way to make a lasting contribution,'' James Casso, director of the human anatomy laboratory at the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine, said in an interview. ``I'm sure every doctor remembers their cadaver forever.''
The bodies will be used by first-year medical students studying anatomy, Casso said.
"This is really the best way to learn," he said. "There's no substitute for the human body."
The bodies may be used for medical research down the road, he said.
Medical schools have long used body donations to teach students. Experts say demand for bodies has grown because of an increase in medical school enrollment and a desire to practice procedures.
"Doctors really want to make sure they've practiced sufficiently before they do a procedure on a living person," said Corrine Bell, deputy director of the Anatomy Gift Registry, a non-profit body donation program. "Nobody wants to be the person (on which) a doctor has their first procedure."
Despite the demand, there is no shortage of donors, Bell said. Many donors want to avoid funeral costs, she said, noting people have hospital bills after battling a long illness.
"It's the cost benefit and the philanthropic benefit," Bell said. "We believe that those two factors together have been increasing body donation. We believe the economy is a significant factor."
National body donation programs have emerged in recent years, said Sara Marsden, editor-in-chief of U.S. Funerals Online, which works with one of the services. Funeral homes are increasingly offering a body donation option, she said.
While the typical donor is at least 70 years old, age is not usually a factor in accepting bodies for the program. But certain conditions, including obesity, low weight and infectious diseases, can make a body unsuitable for the school's educational purposes, university officials said.
Casso said he will examine each body at the time of death to determine if it's suitable for donation.
The medical school will provide prospective donors with a laminated identification card containing information about their wish to donate their body. Donors also should inform their family members of their wish.
After a donor is officially pronounced dead, a licensed funeral director on the medical school staff will make arrangements to retrieve the body for free and bring it to the medical school, where it will be securely stored until it's needed for educational purposes, university officials said. The medical school has the capacity to accept nearly 100 bodies.
After completing its study of a body, the medical school will pay to cremate the remains and return the ashes to the family, according to the donor's instructions. To honor its donors, the medical school will hold a memorial service for the donors' family, students and faculty to attend.
Quinnipiac's medical school opens in August and will focus on primary care. It will be the third medical school in Connecticut, along with Yale University and the University of Connecticut.
"We're hopeful" that the university will be able to get enough body donations, Casso said.