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Memorial service honors 'noble gesture'

Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends and family gathered under the shade of massive hemlock trees Friday, Sept. 7 at Albany Rural Cemetery to remember their loved ones who donated their bodies to science.

Albany Medical College faculty and staff held the memorial in Menands to remember the 247 people that donated their remains to the college. Faculty of the college's Anatomical Gift Program and the medical students that learned through the selfless acts personally thanked loved ones who came from as far away as Connecticut.

Their remains were buried in a single casket in the cemetery's east end.

Others were buried in Catholic ceremonies at neighboring St. Agnes Cemetery.

Those who gave this gift will most assuredly extend the lives of people they were never able to meet, said the Rev. Rick Behan senior resident and pastoral care at Albany Medical Center. And although the donors were all individuals who probably never knew one another and had little in common, "they were very different people who came together in one act."

The college's class of 2010 spoke to the merits of the donors' ultimate gift to the college and science. They spoke of them fondly and read off each name as family, friends and loved ones place white carnations upon their final resting place.

"They have not only given themselves for our benefit but to the benefit of all our future patients," said medical student Aaron Provisor. "I can not think of a more noble gesture than the gift of one's self."

Anatomy cannot be taught in two-dimensions, he said during the service. The donors' gifts allowed for the comprehensive study of the field and the ability to discoverer the intricate workings of a human's intricate design.

"He wanted to do this, and one of my sons and I are planning to do the same," said Anna Etherton. "We have six children, and they weren't all happy about this decision, but something good should come of a death. I'm comforted that students can learn this way; maybe it will help other people with the disease."

Etherton of Gloversville donated her husband, Alexander's, body after he died of prostate cancer earlier this year, at the age of 85.

Albany Medical College is among a short list of medical colleges that holds graveside services for those who make anatomical gifts, according to the college.

Last week's ceremony was a thank you to the families that enabled medical students, residents, physician's assistants, physical therapists and students of related fields to understand the structure of the human body through dissection.

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