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The Minister of Health, Dorcus Makgato, has stated that it is no longer necessary to procure dead bodies (cadavers) for use by trainee doctors at the newly established School of Medicine (SoM) at the University of Botswana.
“Nowadays technology has moved beyond slicing up those. You can do it live on monitors. There are other ways of doing it. Even at the medical school and the university right now, you are able to train a doctor without necessarily having this and get a fully-fledged doctor,” she told parliament.
In the not-too-distant past, the UB spokesperson, Mhitshane Reetsang, has stated that SoM has adequate models for anatomical sciences training and was soon to receive electronic equipment (anatomage) which would complement the models and histological resources available. However, she added that cadavers would still be necessary for postgraduate studies, especially for surgical science-related programmes.
Cadavers came to be a subject of discussion in parliament when Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, sought to know when the government was planning to bring a cadavers bill to parliament.
“When this training hospital was built, one would have expected government to bring a bill to parliament on the use of cadavers. We now have a training hospital, but we do not have a law regulating the use of dead bodies for purpose of training,” the MP said.
In response, Makgato said that she had no idea how far the bill was.
The fact of the matter is that cadavers’ law already exists as part of the Public Health Act. In bill form, the latter excited emotions when it emerged that it would isolate people who, aware of their status, knowingly infect others with sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Virtually all media coverage and other public commentary dwelled on this particular clause, leaving out other significant clauses. One was on human tissues and organs. This clause, which the last parliament adopted in its entirety, makes provision for those who qualify in terms of the Wills Act to make a living will donating their bodies or specific tissues to be used after their death, authorising post-mortem examination of their bodies and nominating an institution to benefit from such donation. As the only medical school in Botswana, SoM stands to be the main if not only beneficiary. What this means is that there would be no need to bring a bill on cadavers because they are already covered under the Public Health Act. The Act says that human organs donated for the purpose of transplantation, treatment, research as well as medical and dental training shall be regarded as “national assets.”
The cadavers law came five late. In terms of the plan to establish SoM, the Ministry of Health was to have submitted a draft amendment to the Public Health Act by November/December, 2007. Although the process was initiated, the deadline was not met and it would be five years later that the Public Health Bill was finally tabled before Parliament. In one respect that was a result of then Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou, being dropped from cabinet upon the ascension of Ian Khama to the presidency. Her recollection to Sunday Standard was that she presented the Human Tissues and Organs Bill to cabinet which tweaked the language and scope of the bill. The bill was then sent to the Attorney General but before it was finalised she was dropped from cabinet on April 1, 2008.