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July 1999

Used to be that a person with HIV would be lucky to get a 20-minute parking validation sticker from a research institute in exchange for participation in a clinical trial.

These days, some clinical trials entice potential subjects with cash and other give-aways.

Now, along comes a new study that raises the ante for study freebies.

Does this study offer each subject blood draws in Bali? Shares in pharmaceutical stock? A '00 Lexus sedan?

Naw. This study offers each subject a FREE AUTOPSY.

Who says that there are no perks to having AIDS?

It so happens that booking someone to perform my autopsy is one of those pesky post-mortem details I somehow have neglected to handle during my waning pre-mortem days.

My God! What have I been thinking?!

A person's autopsy is one of those comes-only-once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And I don't want my autopsy to be botched by some trainee in the coroner's office. It's my only autopsy, darn it, and I want it to be special.

So I leaped at a chance to assure myself that this important rite of passage in my life, er, death, would not only live up to my expectations, but be free of charge. I phoned one of the sites conducting the study.

"Can you tell me more about this free autopsy you are advertising with your clinical study?" I asked.

The person at the other end of the line paused skeptically and asked me exactly what I wanted to know.

"Is this a no-frills autopsy?" I said, "or will you give me 'the works'? Do you really tie a tag around the big toe or is that something you only see on 'Columbo'? Will shining a flashlight under my eyelid cause any damage to my retina if it turns out that I'm not dead? Are your autopsies videotaped and sold to 'America's Grossest Autopsies'?"

The person at the other end of the line said that she would talk to her supervisor, and then she put me on hold.

The next day I phoned back.

"Good morning!" I chirped. "This is the guy you have on hold. Could you also find out if your autopsy accommodations include a private drawer? With a nightlight?"

As she left the line to confer with her supervisor, I listened to a dial tone.

When I called the next day I was put hold immediately.

Someone with a gruff voice came on the line. "What do you want from us, anyhow, buddy?" he said.

"I just want to m-make a reservation for a f-free autopsy," I stammered.

"Well, why didn't you say so?" the man replied in an amiable, sing-songy voice not unlike that of Willy Wonka. "Do you have a pen? Good. OK, here is the number to call. It's 1 . . . 800 . . . DROP DEAD!!!"

Been trying to get through for days.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.