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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House panel looks for ways to hike supply of cadavers for med school use

Darah Fontánez, associate dean of medical sciences at Ponce Health Science University

By The Star Staff

The supply of available corpses for medical students is low, according to information provided Monday at a hearing of the House Community Impact Committee, chaired by Rep. Lydia Méndez Silva.

The committee is holding hearings on the donation of human bodies to universities in Puerto Rico as part of the process of training health professionals.

Darah Fontánez, associate dean of medical sciences at Ponce Health Science University (PHSU), advocated for identifying the necessary resources to continue promoting the cadaver donation process.

“Corpses are key to deepening the study of the human body and advancing science, taking into account the anatomical variations that make medicine or the medical approach increasingly important,” the professor and anatomist said.

Fontánez noted that the institution annually receives complete bodies and organs, such as brains, that enable education and contribute to the academic training of doctors, nurses, psychologists and dentists.

In turn, resident doctors from nearby hospitals use corpses at the PHSU facilities to train in new surgical procedures that, the dean said, improve the quality of health services provided to patients on the island.

“The dissection exercise allows us to appreciate the normal variations or anomalies in a corpse. In this way, we improve the surgical process in living patients,” Fontánez said. “With dissection, we study the effect of aging since chronic diseases leave a mark that improves the understanding of anatomy for those who study it.”

Fontánez said the donation process begins when a living human being decides to make a commitment to the training of future health professionals. PHSU collaborates in this process by receiving people interested in completing the necessary documentation and facilitating communication with the Anatomical Donations Board.

After contributing to the education of health professionals, the studied body is returned to the donations board, which then proceeds to fulfill the donor’s desire for final disposition. Finally, at the end of the academic year, School of Medicine students, faculty and other guests pay tribute to the donors through an appreciation ceremony.

In the activity, Fontánez said, the students share a song, a poem or some expression that allows them to thank the donor for the “altruistic act,” and they can reflect on the learning experience with their “first patient.”

“The importance of the hearings [in the House of Representatives] is that people don’t know what happens after the body leaves the universities,” Rep. Lisie Burgos Muñiz said. “It is important that people know that there are already some instructions that the donor gave, and then they go through that process. Yes, dignity is given until the last moment.”

Fontánez pointed out during her presentation that, at the moment, the donations board has limited personnel to continue with the “titanic effort” of preparing the donations of corpses that they receive at PHSU.

In response to questions from Burgos Muñiz, the dean noted that the institution receives between eight and 10 corpses a year for use in the PHSU facilities. However, the ideal number would be to receive 12 corpses due to the number of students enrolled in the Medical Education Program.

“The Board needs more resources. They definitely need resources that can help them not only continue their work, but also educate,” Fontánez emphasized. “Educate and explain why we use cadavers in the teaching process of the students.”

“Through the institutions I believe that we can help, but we can also help from an angle,” she added. “Of course, we cannot do much more, since our job is to educate. And we educate our students and in certain activities give to the community, but we need to increase that effort.”

Méndez Silva announced at the end of the public hearing that she will soon be conducting a visual visit at PHSU as part of the investigation conducted through House Resolution 874.

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