Friday, August 1, 2008

Dead stuff: More jobs for dead people.

Just thought I'd share this. It comes from a newspaper in Tucson. (BTW, the state of Arizona seems to have a very progressive and active attitude towards water use and conservation policies.)

Published: 08.01.2008
Ryn: Some people useful past their expiration dates
Tucson Citizen

Dead people can be quite useful. Not necessarily as dinner guests, but for so many other interesting and phenomenal things.
A recent corpse contribution was for testing a spaceship. Three dead people got to be suited up, strapped in and examined after experiments in the Orion space capsule at Ohio State University.
The cadavers help determine how live astronauts will get banged up when the capsule comes parachuting back to Earth after a trip to the moon in something like 2020.
The dead also have helped car manufacturers, filling in for those artificial crash-test dummies seen in commercials that always tell you to wear a seat belt.
Cadavers give a better read on car safety. It's difficult to bruise a dummy's hard plastic or see how many ribs a steering column would break when the artificial dummy hasn't got ribs.
Corpses also have been used for centuries to help with medical breakthroughs, surgery techniques, teaching tools and also as a sort of initiation for many medical students.
Some students even hold memorial services for their dead once they are done dissecting, bisecting and poking through organs.
Anyone who finds this stuff fascinating should definitely take a gander at Mary Roach's book "Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers."
She not only outlines the many uses for corpses, but also includes a brief history of grave robbing.
Roach opens with a scene where a bunch of decapitated heads await their fate on a table.
No, they were not being used to test hairstyles or makeup. They were practice heads for plastic-surgery students.
Corpses also keep morticians, funeral directors, grave diggers and cemetery owners in business.
Dead people keep a lot of live people employed.
One of those is our own Bruce Parks, chief medical examiner of Pima County. His office's annual budget is about $2.5 million, a lot of dough dedicated to the deceased.
He expects to see 16 or so bodies a week during the summer, when immigrants drop dead in the desert.
Other common causes of corpses in Pima County include car crashes, drug overdoses, heart attacks and gunshot wounds.
An autopsy can take from 90 minutes to several days, depending on how easy it is to determine the cause of death.
"When they are very decomposed, it's more challenging," Parks said. "Their features are gone."
He also recalled one of the lengthiest autopsies he performed - a body encased in concrete.
"That took a lot of manual labor," he said.
Parks is not alone in having a great interest in the dead. Whenever the Medical Examiner's Office has a general job opening, he said, people scramble to apply.
"People want to work here."
When it comes to staffing the higher levels, though, it's a different story.
"There's a shortage of forensic pathologists," he said. "We don't have future physicians clamoring for forensic pathology. It's not lucrative."
Well, at least not for some physicians, and not for Parks' kids.
"They don't really ask about it," Parks said about his job's gory details. "They are happy not knowing."
That's also the case when people leave their bodies to science - they never know where they may end up.
Your donated body could be decapitated, break its ribs in a car crash or even go spiraling into space. Just rest in peace and be assured you'll be doing something quite useful.
* Most recent year available. Source: Arizona Department of Health Services.

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