I’m dead… now what?

The Carillon, Vol. 52 Issue 10 | Nov. 12 – 18, 2010

Beyond the organ donation option on provincial health forms, most of us don’t think much about what will happen after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the human body doesn’t disappear upon death. It remains, and what we choose to do with those remains can be selfish or altruistic. After all, there are better uses for your cadaver than sacrificing it to fire or the earth.

After all, who wants to rot in the ground? That’s all well and good if you believe that your body has to be intact so that you can be resurrected on the Day of Judgment, but what about the rest of us? There’s no dignity in being worm food. As for cremation, that’s an equally ugly prospect. Besides, there are so many interesting uses for your corpse before you are cooked. Even if you won’t be there to appreciate it, your cadaver can help others.

A corpse can undertake any number of strange adventures after its previous owner deeds it to science. Bodies are dissected by medical students. Heads are severed and used by budding plastic surgeons to practice their craft. On “body farms” cadavers are allowed to rot. This provides crime scene investigators with insights into the characteristics of human decomposition. Dead bodies were even used in car safety tests, allowing scientists to develop crash test dummies and safer cars, ultimately saving thousands.

Of course, if science isn’t your bag, you can have your cadaver converted into art. “Body Worlds” is a traveling exhibition of cadavers that have been preserved using a technique called plastination, which reveals inner anatomical structures. The show has been extremely controversial, considering that its original models were executed murderers, but now you can will your body to the exhibition.

In any event, there’s no reason not to make your funeral as dramatic and interesting as possible, provided you can afford it. You can have fun with your ashes. American journalist and notoriously drug-abusing social commentator Hunter S. Thompson’s cremated remains were fired from a cannon to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The ashes of 1960s counterculture icon Tim Leary and a portion of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s were launched into space. Actor James Doohan and astronaut Gordon Cooper took similar journeys beyond the atmosphere in 2007.

Whatever you decide to do with your remains, one of the best and easiest things you can do is donate your organs. It’s easy to overlook, since it’s just a box on a form, but you can save several lives after your life has ended. In Sweden, you are automatically an organ donor unless you consciously opt out. We should have the same system in Canada. While it’s your choice if you don’t wish to be a donor, organs that could save multiple lives shouldn’t be sacrificed simply because of indifference. We owe it to the people that are left after we are gone.

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