Tasteless, right? For those unfamiliar with what I just posted above, that’s a hashtag used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to categorize photos, tweets and blog posts to identify messages on a specific topic. How specific? As specific as you’d like it to be. And while the “#CorpseSelfie” isn’t by any means the norm, it might as well be after reading this horrible story about a high school student posting a photo of herself with a cadaver.
While on the senior class trip to the University of Alabama’s Anatomical Donation Center, one high school student did what many high school students do… she took a selfie. (For those non-web savvy readers, a “selfie” is when someone takes a photo of themselves with their phone.)
The issue here is that she opted to include a cadaver in this picture. Thus, this deceased man, who had the goodness to donate his body to science, was completely exposed on Instagram. The photo was deleted, and all subsequent ones have blurred the body and student, but the beast had been released.
The point of the Internet is to get attention at all costs. The more shocking and bizarre the more popular it becomes. Then other people come along and either emulate the trend or make fun of it until they get bored and move on to something else.
Mostly, it’s just harmless, and often clever, fun. When something truly horrible surfaces, like racist Halloween costumes or fast food workers grossly tampering with food, the Internet and mainstream media comes together to shame it out of existence. However, every year there’s always another racist Halloween costume or rogue fast food employee and the cycle starts all over again. Ideally, taking photos with cadavers won’t happen often, but with hundreds of millions of people online, some of whom will do anything to gain more “likes” and re-tweets, odds are it will happen again.
This also opens up the conversation about decorum when confronted with death. Remember when President Obama took a selfie at Nelson Mendela’s funeral? The general consensus, and look on Michelle Obama’s face, was that funerals are not the place to whip out the camera phone.
But this isn’t really about politics. We’ve seen our politicians posting worse selfies than smiles at a funeral. (I still can’t erase those Anthony Weiner images from my mind.) But it seems like we’re transforming what were once selfless acts of remembrance (funerals) and medical research (donating a body to science) into an opportunity to get selfish attention. You want your funeral to be remembered as a way to honor your life, not as a sideshow where some bored attendee you barely knew made it about them. You want your death to be able to help the living, but not if some teen is using your body as a background prop.
With technology being so easy to use and share with millions, this isn’t much of a shock. My concern is that we have become a society that cares more about social admiration than we do about respecting a deceased human. While some may say "What's the big deal?" or brush it off as stupid teenage behavior, I ask: What if this were your father, husband or brother? What if an entire life that mattered so much to you was reduced to a quick gag?
I strongly support donating all or parts of our body at the point when we no longer need them, and no one should feel otherwise because of this story. I've done plenty of research and studying and wholeheartedly believe legitimate medical institutions like University of Alabama treat bodies with the utmost respect. While I feel sorry for the gentleman who was exposed and his family, I hope all future high school trips to their donation center, and all donation centers looking to educate people, immediately start doing what most institutions housing sensitive information and research do: Take away everyone's cell phone the moment they arrive and don’t give it back until they’re walking out the door.