SYKESVILLE — The Anatomy Board of Maryland held a ceremony to honor those who have donated their bodies to support medical knowledge Monday afternoon at Springfield Hospital Center.
Friends and family members of the deceased were invited for a memorial ceremony at the hospital center in Sykesville, which features a dedicated gravesite to those who had their bodies donated to the anatomy board.
Ronn Wade, director of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene State Anatomy Board, said they've held the event for more than 40 years, as both a way to commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their bodies after death as well as a way to give a chance for a final farewell from their friends and families.
According to Wade, bodies belonging to the Anatomy Board are used in training medical students at schools, trauma training, surgeon training and military medical programs throughout the state.
While many of the bodies come from donors who willingly submit their bodies to the process prior to their deaths, others belong to people who have not been claimed by family members following their deaths.
"If someone dies and no one claims the body, the state basically has a duty and responsibility to provide for a decent and dignified disposition," Wade said. "It has the right, since it's using public funds, to provide for the use of the body to advance the public health interest."
Wade said when he began working for the board 40 years ago, they had between 300 and 400 donors, but now they have more than 75,000.
Adam Puche, Anatomy Board vice chairman, opened the ceremony by talking about how important these donated bodies are to the educational process of medical students as well as their impact on society as a whole.
"Medical donors touch the lives and hearts of their friends and families, but they also touch the lives of medical professionals," Puche said. "And through that contact they have with us, they touch the lives of thousands and thousands of people."
To honor the faiths of the deceased, the Rev. Patrick M. Carrion, director of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area, the Rev. Edward Richardson of Springfield State Hospital and Rabbi Ruth Smith, chaplain of the University of Maryland Medical Center each stepped forward to say a prayer for the lost loved ones.
David McCloud attended after the death of his father. He said he was impressed with the service and the emphasis on different faiths stuck out to him.
"It was very comforting. When my father passed, I had to let the state handle the arrangements, and I'm actually very satisfied with what I've seen," McCloud said. "It kind of eased my guilt because I wasn't able to do it myself."
For Joyce Kindle, the ceremony was a way for her to say goodbye to her daughter's father. Kindle said she wasn't aware that his body had been donated to the Anatomy Board until she began to search for where bodies go when not claimed.
"It was nice. We needed closure," Kindle said. "If something like this happens to other people they need closure, and we didn't get that. I was even thinking during the ceremony that I might want to do this."
Outside, Heather Sinclair was joined by about a half-dozen others carrying signs protesting the ceremony.
Sinclair said though she is a supporter of the donation process, she believes the current system does not give enough time or effort to find or contact family members who may have other plans for the deceased. Sinclair said that she supports Nancy's Law, a bill that would allow a friend or relative of a decedent to arrange the final disposition of their unclaimed body beyond the 72-hour limit that is currently in place, at which point the State Anatomy Board takes control of the body. The bill was proposed and quickly died during the 2016 General Assembly.
"We totally support body donation," Sinclair said. "But they call these unclaimed and they're not contacting the families. We just want them to make reasonable and good faith efforts to contact the family and check with the missing person's registry."