Dead Bodies Matter: Gift Giving and the Unveiling of Body Donor Monuments in the Netherlands

Abstract

Body donors are people who voluntarily donate their entire body, after death, to anatomical science. Based on anthropological fieldwork in the Netherlands this article explores the construction of body donor monuments since 2007. These developments are analyzed by means of gift-giving theories. Body donation is a practice in which the medical and scientific value of the donor bodies has always been praised. Increasingly the fact that the bodies represent real human beings who have mourning relatives has also been acknowledged. This change in attitude has resulted in a desire on the part of anatomical professionals to give back a monument, not only for the donors themselves but also, in particular, for the donors’ relatives. The great public interest in the monuments has revealed that many of the bereaved, in the absence of having the physical body of the donor, need a symbolic final resting place for their loved ones.