Why donate your body to Body Farm? A woman shares her story

Lucinda Denton, 84, signed up years ago to be a Body Farm donor. Why not? she says. “When you’re dead, you’re dead.”

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – The way Lucinda Denton sees it, when you’re dead you’re dead.

So why let your leftovers rot in the ground when they could be used for science? She never liked tombstones anyway.

The 84-year-old West Knox County resident signed the papers years ago to donate her body to the University of Tennessee Anthropology Research Center, better known as Body Farm.

“The idea of ​​being buried – that’s the end. But if you go to the body farm, you’re useful – useful for research!” says the Rocky Mount, North Carolina native, mother of three and grandmother of seven.

His family understands his wishes. Her late husband, Harold, understood her wishes, although he was not interested in stepping out onto the three-acre lot near the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

One day, I hope she will spend in peace in her wooded house near Lake Fort Loudoun, she said. Then it will be time to come and get Lucinda and take her to the Corps Farm.

Who knows? Maybe the former schoolteacher will wear the Body Farm t-shirt her son gave her as a birthday present several years ago.

Administrators at UT’s Center for Forensic Anthropology say it time and time again: they cannot pursue science without donor bodies. They are eternally grateful to the people who decide to donate their remains.

“We have the utmost respect for our donors,” said Mary Davis, CAF research associate.

Some at the center have even made the decision to donate, including Davis and veteran associate director Lee Meadows Jantz.

“I plan to donate,” Davis said. “I strongly believe in the work we do, and I know firsthand that we cannot do this work without our donors, so I plan to continue this work even after my death.”

Potential donors must go through an application process.

Hundreds have done so over the past 40 years. According to FAC Director Dawnie Steadman, more than 5,000 people are “pre-donors,” which means they have been screened and are in the system.

You can find more information about donating your body here. They can’t take everyone who wants to donate. No one who is HIV positive or has had tuberculosis, for example, will be accepted.

They also cannot accept people who have been embalmed.

Once you’re accepted into the program, you’ll get a donor card to keep in your wallet or among your personal papers, Davis said.

While most people who participate in the program have made arrangements well in advance of their death, sometimes donations arrive abruptly. There have been cases, for example, where the family decided upon death that they wanted a member’s remains to be returned quickly.

It is possible that in the course of research, a person’s body will be subjected to trauma. In the name of science, their bones could be broken. Donors and families are notified in advance in case they have any objections.

It’s wise for donors and families to discuss a donor’s wishes, Steadman said.

“Not everyone in the family can understand or agree to this, but as long as they know what your wishes are and why, they are more likely to go through with it,” he said. she declared.

Many people who are considering making a donation are already enrolled in a research program.

Denton, for example, is involved in long-term biometric research for the military that involves facial recognition and how a face can be recognized during decomposition. His face has been photographed in life; he will also be photographed in death.

The Body Farm does not collect your leftovers from your home or retirement home. But someone from the center will drive anywhere in Tennessee within a 100 mile radius to collect your body and bring it back to Knoxville if, for example, it’s in a hospital, medical examiner’s office, or funeral home. .

The FAC has a special phone, carried by someone all the time, which is nicknamed the red phone. Steadman is one of the people responsible for answering them.

It’s a phone that families can call to ask about the donation program. And that’s the phone a funeral home or the police will call when it’s time to retrieve a body.

Donors are taken to a drop-in center at the William M. Bass Forensic Anthropology Building, named after Body Farm founder Bill Bass, where they are cataloged and labeled. Most will eventually end up at the neighboring corps farm. They can be buried, placed on the ground under a black tarpaulin or left in the open.

Students and researchers will study them for maybe a year or two, studying everything from the rate of decay to the impact of scavengers such as raccoons and vultures on decay rates.

At any given time, there are 150 to 200 bodies at the center, Steadman said.

When a research project ends, a donor’s remains return to the Bass building. This time they will be rubbed, picked and cleaned by the students. If necessary, the lab has slow cookers to boil small pieces of mummified tissue and cartilage.

The lab ensures that every one of your 206 bones comes back to the admission center.

Once they have all been cleaned, they are numbered and ready to be wrapped and kept in the Bass Donated Skeletal Collection housed at Strong Hall on the UT campus.

Each donor box includes their catalog number, gender and age.

Over 1,800 people make up the Skeleton Collection, the oldest of which was born in 1892. Bass began the collection with the founding of Body Farm in 1981.

Even as a donor goes on a giant shelf among giant rows of boxed bones in Strong, their educational contributions continue. Your bones could still be used for further study.

If they wish, family members can arrange to come visit the bones of a loved one. Staff will also discuss with them the type of search that was conducted with the remains, Jantz said.

Years ago, when she started working with families, Jantz said, the staff were reluctant to say too much because they didn’t want to bother anyone. What she has realized over time, however, is that sons, daughters, siblings, and grandchildren are actually curious and eager to learn more about a donor’s time. at UT.

When teaching science in the Washington, DC area, Denton told her students that she could just donate her body so that her skeleton could someday be on display in class.

“And they said, Mrs. Denton, who will we know it’s you?” And I said: Look at those teeth! she reminded herself as she opened it wide.

This was before Denton knew about Body Farm. She became interested in becoming a donor after moving with her husband, the retired head of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in the 1990s.

She read Bill Bass’s books, fiction and non-fiction, and she even met the retired forensic anthropologist, finally telling him that she wanted to be on the program. He told her how to register.

In Denton’s family, they often talk about her decision to donate, she said. Harold Denton was cremated after his death four years ago. When he died, the family finally came together to celebrate his life over a long weekend in the mountains of North Carolina.

That’s how Denton prefers it. No funeral.

Every Sunday when she was a child in Rocky Mount, Denton’s family would go to the cemetery to see her grandfather and the family grounds. They stared at the flowers, looked after the grass.

Little Lucinda had her own mission.

“They made me take a toothbrush and a small bucket of water to clean the bird poop from the gravestone. So I have a very negative feeling about the gravestones,” she said. declared.

Denton hopes there is an afterlife, but she isn’t convinced anyone has proven that it actually exists.

Instead, she focuses on a busy life. Three years ago, she went hang-gliding with her son. She loved to ride a roller coaster until her orthopedic surgeon told her it was time to stop.

When her time comes, she will go to the Body Farm – the next chapter of the journey.

“I want it to be used for something good, so I feel like Body Farm and all the scientists out there can be of use to my body. I won’t know what. But whatever. either, I’m ready! “

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