The Embalming Room

December 3, 2017



It was like stepping into an open graveyard. I have never seen anything quite like it before. The embalming room.


I want to take you to the place I was standing, in this embalming room, one dead body to the left, and one to the right. The body to the left had only arrived this very morning. Whereas the body to the right was already towards the end of the embalming process, attached to the chemical container which was almost empty. The most surprising and particularly challenging part for me was the different ways in which these bodies were referred to. The body to the left was the deceased. The body to the right was the cadaver. Yet their date of death was only 4 days apart. 


Once embalmed, the cadaver becomes depersonalised. They look more like an anatomy specimen than a person. Although it sounds bleak, it is actually a helpful attitude to have towards the cadaver, especially for a medical student. It would be incredibly difficult for a medical student to dissect a cadaver if it had the appearance of a person. They are in fact depersonalised on purpose - their hair is shaven to create a less 'personal' appearance.


Reflecting on my own experience as a medical student in the dissecting room, I found this depersonalisation helpful in terms of viewing the cadaver as a specimen for education and dissection. However, personally, I think this is taken slightly too far when the cadavers lose their name in replacement for a number. Even if they were given a different name to keep their identity anonymous, it would create less of a 'clinical' feel to the body in front of you. It is important to be reminded that although they may appear very different now, this was once a person. A name would aid in this process. To my understanding, some universities do allow their cadavers to have names, however Manchester does not adopt this. 


After seeing the embalming process first-hand, it has made me think twice about the idea of being embalmed when my time comes - besides, I've hopefully got a while to think about that yet! This was an incredibly insightful experience, and has left me with mountains of thoughts to process.



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