Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: With the Western Carolina University Body Farm, can anyone donate their body to the program? How does that work? Do you have to go through a funeral home to do it? Or do you have to make provisions to have your body delivered there? Also, I’m assuming your body couldn’t be cleaned or preserved in any way, correct? Is there a cost associated with it for transportation or handling, so to speak? And how many bodies do they get in a typical year for the program?
My answer: I’m pretty sure they would reject mine on aesthetic grounds alone, but the weight limit would definitely do me in.
Real answer: Nicholas Passalacqua, director of WCU’s forensic anthropology program, helped out with the answers on this one, via email.
The program and its students conduct research in human decomposition and skeletal biology, according to the website, and it provides “an important resource for the training of forensic scientists, law enforcement, and health and human service professionals.”
And yes, “anyone can donate their body, and a legal next of kin can donate someone else’s body,” Passalacqua said.
“For example, it is common that someone would like to donate their body to science, but never actually makes those arrangements while they are alive, ” Passalacqua said. “After they pass, their next of kin can fill out that paperwork and donate their remains. We only accept and use willed bodies in our research facilities.”
The program receives about 20 willed bodies a year, Passalacqua said.
WCU has all the paperwork explaining the process and requirements on its website. You can find them here.
After a donor dies, WCU needs the completed body donation paperwork, a copy of the death certificate, and arrangements with a funeral home to have the remains transported to WCU.
“Legally in North Carolina, you do not have to go through a funeral home, but it is the preferred method, as funeral homes are very good at assisting with a lot of things involved with death and the handling of human remains,” Passalacqua said.
Western does not charge for body donation, but the university also cannot cover the cost of transporting remains.
“Typically, these costs are $700 or less, but it depends on how far the remains need to be transported,” Passalacqua said. “We occasionally have funds available to support transportation for those in need, however these are dependent upon financial donations to our program …”
Those donations can be made through the Forensic Anthropology Development Fund, which you can find here.
The program cannot accept embalmed bodies, as the chemicals used in that process prevent decomposition, which is what the students need to study.
“Additionally, we cannot accept a donation if someone has communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, or if they weigh more than 250 pounds,” Passalacqua said. “Otherwise, we can accept bodies in any condition. Even remains that have already been cremated have a lot of educational and research utility within forensic anthropology.”
The weight limit is simply a practical consideration, as they have to “move the donors by hand, as our facility is basically a fenced area of woods. So if someone is very heavy, moving them can be difficult and create safety issues,” Passalacqua said.
“As for the value of cremated remains, there are a lot of teaching uses for them, but in general, they are helpful for demonstrating what bones look like once they are calcined (very altered by burning), and specifically they are crucial for teaching different approaches to examining cremated remains,” Passalacqua said. “Unfortunately, forensic anthropologists routinely have to examine cremated remains in cases where a funeral home or crematorium may be doing something they shouldn’t.”
By the way, when Western’s body farm opened in 2006, it was just the second in the country, with the other located at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, according to the Associated Press.
The United States now has seven body farms at universities, the website Allcriminaljusticeschools.com noted in a December article.
“Studying the rate of decay helps forensic scientists determine when a person died,” the website notes. “At the Body Farm, students intentionally leave corpses out in the elements to study what happens as the body decomposes.”
“The goal is always the same: to simulate crime scenes so that students can document decay and learn to identify future victims (or the time and circumstances of their death),” the article continued. “With so many forces influencing the decomposition of the human body, it is sometimes difficult — if not impossible — to determine time of death or identity. And that’s why continued forensic research is so important.”
Merrimon Avenue Pit of Despair North fun fact followup: Last week I wrote about the collapsed building on Merrimon Avenue that’s remained vacant since 2005. An alert reader shared an interesting tidbit of history about the site, which he jokingly referred to as, “Boyle Plaza,” a reference to the commercial real estate agent telling me he could name it for me if I chipped in a million bucks or so.
Turns out the site, located across the street from what is now Luella’s Bar-B-Que, was the original home of “Dinner for the Earth,” which evolved into the Earth Fare supermarket chain.
“Back in the early ‘80s I lived right up Chatham Road from there and was a patron of the store in that building,” reader Rick Fornoff told me via email. “I was a home brewer and that was the only place in Asheville where you could buy beer brewing supplies. Along with the malt extract and yeast I needed there was also an assortment of supplements and various organic food.”
Fornoff was skeptical the store would make it.
“The store was kind of dingy, and I wasn’t sure it would make it as a business,” he said. “Well, the owner did well enough to move to a new location, in the building now housing Moog Music. It was called Dinner for the Earth, which then moved to the Westgate Mall where it was renamed Earth Fare. So I was wrong; Roger Derrough did pretty well with that store after all.”
Indeed, Earth Fare grew pretty big, went into bankruptcy and has now been reborn with new investors. Several other readers also noted the Merrimon Avenue connection on Facebook.
On its website, Earth Fare notes it started in 1975 in Asheville, and was the city’s first health food store.
“Our first store was just 1,200 square feet and offered a modest selection of organic dried bulk goods and wellness products. Growing over the years, our commitment to clean, healthy food has never wavered.”
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.
My brief search this morning, spurred on by memory, found that between the original Merrimon location and the present Westgate location, Dinner for the Earth (Earth Fare) operated on Broadway Street. One Facebook poster said it is where Moog is now, which would be 160 Broadway. There is a bit of detail in The Mountain Express of October 14, 2009, which is available online.
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