In a place where unnatural death has been common and thousands lie buried in unidentified graves, a shortage of cadavers for medical research and training may sound ironic. Inamul Haq examines the reasons.
The SKIMS Medical College is facing a unique problem.For the last three years now the premier tertiary care medical institution lacks an important teaching component – cadavers.An unofficial de facto ban on cadaver transportation by some states, particularly Punjab has made acquiring cadavers for medical training purposes in Kashmir almost impossible.
Medical students in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses require cadavers or dead bodies for dissection to learn anatomy, a standard practice everywhere.
“Since anatomy is the study of the structure of the human body, the teaching and research in anatomy is mainly based on cadaver dissection,” said Dr Nasser Syed, headof the Anatomy Department at SKIMS Medical College. “But we are facing acute shortage of cadavers. Therefore, students are being taught on computers with specially designed software and artificially prepared models.”
Books and computers can’t replicate the hands-on method, thus experience and education gained through dissection of human cadaver is far more superior and very different from the learning provided by artificial means, said Dr Syed.
The problem is not limited to SKIMS College only. Kashmir’s only other medical college, Government Medical College (GMC) is also finding it difficult, managing to obtain one or two cadaversa year which is way short of their requirement.
Authorities at GMC said that they are not able to get the number of cadavers needed, which is five to six for each session.
According to Medical Council of India guidelines, 10 students are required to get one cadaver for dissection. However, anatomists inthe medical colleges in Kashmir say training would be manageable with a cadaver for 25 to 30 students.
According to Dr ShaheenShadad, head of the Anatomy Department at GMCSrinagar cadavers are sourced from outside the state and unclaimed bodies locally. But both are affected by prohibitions put in place by some states due to the complicated security and political situation by in Kashmir.
“We mainly used to get cadavers from different colleges of Punjab but after Punjab government put blanket ban on transportation outside state, acquiring a cadaver has become difficult,” said Dr Syed of SKIMS College. “Even if we manage to procure a body, permission for its transportation is not granted by the donor state.”
Dr Shadad, who was recently refused permission by Delhi Police for transportation of a cadaver from All India Institute of Medical Sciences despite requests from Kashmir government, seconds Dr Syed.
Governments of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi have placed restriction on transportation of cadavers, making it practically impossible for Jammu and Kashmir to obtain a body from outside state. But state government has failed to raise the issue with these states or securing permission despite pleas from these colleges.
Earlier medical colleges in the Kashmir valley would get sufficient number of cadavers within state. Unclaimed bodies from Psychiatric Hospital, Central Jail and other Jails besides any unclaimed body recovered by police from any part of Kashmir region would be supplied to these two medical colleges.
Bodies recovered from Jammu region would be supplied to Jammu colleges. Jammu colleges usually have surplus cadavers as they receive unclaimed bodies from Northern Railways as well. But there is no mechanism between two regions for supplying cadavers to another in need, said an official of Medical College.
Jammu and Kashmir has an Anatomy Act, enacted in 1959, that enables research institutions and medical colleges for using unclaimed bodies after a stipulated time. But in the prevailing conditions in Kashmir where every death of an unknown person has the potential of creating serious suspicion it has become difficult for the police to supply unclaimed bodies to medical colleges for dissection purposes.
“Since militancy nobody dares to touch an unclaimed body as we never know who he turns out to be. With so many people missing, it is considered better to give them a proper burial so that tomorrow there won’t be any crisis if there is any claimant,” said a police officerwhorequested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.
Restrictions for transporting dead bodies is affecting medical education in Kashmir as the colleges now totally depend on the import of cadavers.
“In other states a large number of cadavers is received through voluntary donation but here I do not know a single case of donation,” said Dr Shadad. “People here do not donate due to social and political reasons. It has a stigma attached as we do not have awareness about its importance in medical sciences.”