In a statement, Pat Bankston, associate dean of the medical school campus at IUN, didn't discuss the specific reasons for the cancellation. But he stated the campus and program founder Ernest Talarico, a gross anatomy professor at IUN, "are working on potentially adapting the program for inclusion in undergraduate health professions degree curriculums and to further enhance the rigorous instruction that has given the program its worldwide acclaim."
The prosection program, where the muscles and skin are removed from bodies to prepare them for dissection by medical students, got international attention in the media and medical journals because of its unique focus on the so-called first patients' families and personal histories.
Known as the "Talarico protocol," the professor encouraged students to communicate with the anatomical donors' loved ones and held memorial services at the end of each session. He was inspired to run the program this way because of the disrespect he saw cadavers being treated with when he was in medical school.
'It's a dishonor to the donors' families'
Told about the program's cancellation this week, former participants were devastated.
"It's sad that we're losing a program that has really set the bar for how anatomical donors should be treated," said Brittany Winn, a Kouts native who participated in the program each of the past five summers. "It has produced hundreds of physicians who were compassionate and honest and driven to honor their first patients."
Winn became a prosector after a close family friend she considered like a grandmother, Judy Clemens, donated her body to IU School of Medicine. Clemens' body ended up at IUN, and Winn was taken aback when students wrote to thank her for Clemens' donation and invite her to a memorial service.
Winn, now a biology instructor at a private university in Indiana, said not all gross anatomy programs that use IU donors show the same respect for the cadavers. She said that when she attended another state university, fellow students made crude jokes about the anatomical donors, with one student even slapping a cadaver on the butt; at the end of the course, the instructor put the remains in trash bags.
She and her grandparents have pledged their bodies to IU but now feels uncomfortable with them doing so. She said the cancellation of the program is a "dishonor to everyone who's ever donated to IU School of Medicine, it's a dishonor to the donors' families, it's a dishonor to the prosectors." She believes it had to do with IU School of Medicine wanting to make the programming at all of its campuses uniform.
Sue Ellingsen's parents, William and Patricia Kelly, gave their bodies to IUN specifically because of the program. The Munster woman had planned to donate her body to IU but now isn't sure she will.
"I don't feel there's any other program comparable," she said.
For the past several years, she attended its summer memorial service, where students honored current and past anatomical donors by placing roses underneath a tree.
"My parents were cremated. We put their ashes together and sprinkled them around that tree. They call it the 'tree of life,'" Ellingsen said. "I just feel betrayed that this is happening."
She said she and her sister may petition the university to bring the program back.