Earlier this month, I was chuffed to be invited to give a talk at the wonderful Bart's Pathology Museum at St Bartholomew's Hospital, Queen Mary University of London, by the delectable Carla Valentine, the museum's Technical Curator. She asked me to talk about my pet subject, Human Taphonomy Facilities (HTFs), or 'Body Farms', as they have become colloquially known.
To a sold out venue (thank you!), I spoke about the history of 'Body Farms', how they came about in the USA, and how they use donated human cadavers to improve our understanding of the processes of decomposition in a variety of different environments. I described the facilities in the USA and the new one that is opening in early 2016 outside Sydney in Australia (see this previous post too). I discussed how research carried out at these facilities has contributed to our knowledge of decomposition, specifically the estimation of time since death, and the advanced research they are currently doing. I also mentioned the efforts there have been to date to address the fact that there are no such human taphonomy facilities in the UK or even in Europe, and the possible reasons for this reluctance to adopt them. In 2010, there was a notable attempt to establish an HTF in the UK by Omega Supplies Ltd, but this failed for a variety of reasons.
Despite previous failed attempts, I am hopeful that the tide is turning, and that there might be renewed interest in such a venture. I cited recent research undertaken at Staffordshire University that garnered public opinion towards the concept of HTFs and the potential creation of one in the UK. The research demonstrated that the majority of the public surveyed could appreciate the potential benefits of such a facility, and was generally in favour of the creation of one in the UK.
Also, I hope that the current upsurge in the mention of 'Body Farms' in the media means that people will start talking about them, discussing them, and trying to decide for themselves whether they agree with them or not. Would you be willing to donate your body to the advancement of forensic science in this way? For me, the important thing is that the concept gets the attention and debate it deserves.
I wrote an article about it for The Conversation, which was later picked up by the Daily Mail (which incorrectly identified me as 'Professor' - thanks for the promotion!). I hope that what I have written will get people thinking about the pros (and cons) of such facilities, and show how bodies can be put to good use for improving identification techniques and the estimation of time since death.