First-year medical students honor body donors with interfaith service: SLU

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Saint Louis University students honored those who donated their bodies for medical education with an interfaith memorial service on Friday, November 11.

Start slideshowStudent Savannah England reads a reflection during the interfaith memorial service at St. Francis Xavier College Church on November 11. The service honors loved ones who have donated their bodies to the School of Medicine through the Gift Body program. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

The service is set up by first-year medical students, led by John Martin, Ph.D., Dan Daly, DC, Ph.D., and Aidan Ruth, Ph.D. of the Center for Anatomical Science and education (CASE); and Erin Fitzpatrick, campus ministry.

Students are involved in all aspects of the service – from choosing and performing the music, to creating the program artwork, and picking the flowers used in the flower procession. A mix of freshman medical students, graduate students, and paramedic students also serve during ushers and memorial greetings.

Student Stanley Wu, in his reflection, thanked the families present for the gifts of knowledge, humanity and selflessness their loved ones have given him and his fellow SLU students.

Will Rudder used his thinking to quantify a donor’s gift to families. Rudder cited a 2018 study that found the average doctor sees 20 patients a day. He said that assuming medical students work 50 weeks a year, he and his 181 classmates could each see about 7,000 patients a year.

“That’s 1,274,000 patients in a single year,” he said. “That’s the number of lives your relative will help us treat in a year. Your loved ones are touching the lives of people they will never know.

Carley Olsen opened up about how seeing the bright pink nail polish worn by her body donor connected her to a childhood babysitter and how she spent time each week polishing the older woman’s hands.

“I would paint her nails red, purple and blue, but her favorite was hot pink because it got her the most compliments in church,” she said. “Life is made of these most precious moments. Your family members have shown us how fragile and precious life is and we fully appreciate the gift they have given us.

The service, held at St. Francis Xavier College Church, honors all faith traditions represented in the medical school class. This year’s service included prayers from the Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traditions.

body donation program

Each year, people donate their bodies to the SLU School of Medicine’s Gift Body program through the Center for Anatomical Science and Education to educate medical students, health students, and residents. Between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022, 372 people donated their bodies to SLU.

The Saint Louis University Gift Body Program is committed to excellence in research and education. The study of human anatomy has long been, and continues to be, essential to the education of physicians, physiotherapists, and other health science professionals.

Twice a year the ashes are interred at Sts. Pierre and Paul cemetery, 7030, avenue Gravois.

There is a common headstone at the site with the following inscription: “Saint Louis University and its students gratefully acknowledge the charity of those interred here who donated their remains for the advancement of medical science.

Those interested in learning more about the body donation program can call 314-977-8027.


Founded in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school trains doctors and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care locally, nationally, and internationally. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious diseases, liver disease, cancer, heart and lung disease, aging, and brain disorders.


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