Archbishop blesses new anatomy lab at St. Catherine University — and yes, Catholics may donate their bodies to science
As far as unique events go in the life of an archbishop, this one might find a place near the top of the list: Blessing a lab where medical students will dissect human remains in the interest of science.
That’s what Archbishop John Nienstedt did this week at the invitation of St. Catherine University, which dedicated two new human anatomy labs in Mendel Hall on the school’s St. Paul campus.
The labs will be used by physical therapy students — who previously had to travel to the University of Minnesota to dissect cadavers — as well as eight other academic programs, including nursing and biology. More than 500 students are expected to participate in classes in the labs this semester.
Studying anatomy using real human bodies offers students an educational experience and research opportunity they can’t get from books and computer models alone.
But is it something the church approves?
Yes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that if a person freely gives proper consent, “donation of organs after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity.”
And the U.S. bishops state in their “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” that “Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death.”
Bodies used for scientific research must be treated with reverence and respect and the remains properly interred afterward. St. Kate’s plans to start each semester with a religious service to give students an opportunity to express thanks for the gift provided by each donor.
The new labs are a place where faith and science meet — something that Archbishop Nienstedt noted at Monday’s blessing:
“In educational circles, one of the big themes today is the relationship between faith and science. So often people think that there is no relationship. What we are doing here today really is the highlight of the complementarity of these two forms of learning, these two forms of living — because it’s our faith that really gives us the profound reverence and respect that we have for each human person as a son or daughter of God. And the science helps us, it leads us to foster [and] promote the discovery of that human body — what makes it tick, what makes it run — and to promote, in the end, therapies for healing and discoveries that will give us new insights into how we can live better. And, so, it’s very appropriate it seems to me that we ask God’s blessings upon this work today because it really is the best of what we’re about, bringing faith and science together.”
Read more about the labs in next week’s issue of The Catholic Spirit.