I met Jack Bolt to find out something about donating your body to science. Jack’s wife,  Kathleen died in 2015. ‘My wife and my son and I had discussed the subject of death as a matter of fact that needed to be faced. Neither Kathleen or I felt we needed a funeral. But we were concerned with what we’d do with our bodies.’ Unlike many others they’d looked at options directly.

When I spoke to him, Jack had recently attended a powerful ritual, the Commemorative Thanksgiving that the University of Melbourne holds each year, for the families of people who’ve donated their body to science. The Victorian body donation program is coordinated by the University of Melbourne.

Donating your body to science - ritual

Commemorative Thanksgiving program

‘I had no idea that there would be this event at all,’ Jack said. ‘It was at Wilson Hall which is pretty big, and a least a half to three quarters was set up with chairs. In the front there was a row of tables right across the width of the stage. On each table were glass jars with tealight candles, and in front of each a handwritten card, with the name of the donor.

‘As you came in you were met by students with the question: Are you family? Please go up to the front …

‘On each seat was a program, with a wonderful poem. Nothing was sombre. The Professor who spoke didn’t approach it as a chore. Rather the event was filled with life.

‘We were invited to talk to students afterwards while having refreshments. I got a good chance to talk to a young man about the importance and necessity of body donation.

‘He told me: “Photos and screen images can only show you something abstract. It’s not until you see the body in front of you, and have to make an incision … it really comes home to you.”’

You can’t learn everything there is to learn on YouTube.

Jack and his wife Kath had seen a program on Catalyst about the need for bodies to help medical professionals in their training. This led to them making arrangements with the University of Melbourne Body Donor program. Jack speaks very highly of the coordinator.

‘They agreed to take our bodies. She told us that this isn’t always the case. She also explained that once someone has made the donation the program doesn’t tell anyone what institution the body was ultimately donated to. It was donated to the University of Melbourne. Full stop. Amen.’

‘Kath died at St Vincent’s and I’d given the information about body donation on admission. I was with her when she died. I held her hand.

‘I asked the Sister if there was anything I needed to do? She assured me that the hospital would contact the Body Donor Program and they’d arrange transfer by a funeral director. I went home and waited to be in touch with our son overseas, when he was home from work. It was exactly what we wanted.

Thinking of donating? You can find responses to frequently asked questions here, and a contact to the wonderful coordinator.

Kathleen & Jack. Donating your body to science

Kathleen and Jack, 2008, with thanks to Jack Bolt.