Society for Medical Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
This research details the treatment of human bodies at the end of their “lives” as cadavers in contemporary U.S. biomedicine. I follow the work of medical technicians who prepare cadavers for educational use. The focus of the paper is on the concerns and actions of technicians and others involved in the treatment of the dead throughout, and especially at the end of, the cadaveric body’s use cycle: what technicians, managers, and other users term “respect.” I will describe what respect looks like, and analyze what it means in the context of cadaveric bodies that have been commodified and used in a biomedical education and research settings, considering how people “do” respect. There are inconsistencies in how respect is described between the donation literature, donation standards, and technicians. For that reason, the concept of respect is both a universal and a subjective notion that affects the concept of donation, the gift, and the role of science in the treatment of the dead. I will use the concept of a boundary object as a lens with which to describe these varying conceptions of respect. Analyzing respect as a boundary object is useful in interpreting the treatment of cadavers in training and research because of the varied ports of entry that a boundary object allows. Lastly, I will explain how this concept of respect frames new understandings of the gift, the notion of reciprocal sociality, and how body donation is fundamentally tied with the “unproblematic” good of science.