For some people, making a contribution to society doesn’t stop with their death. Many choose to donate their organs, and some opt to donate their body to science. For those who do the latter, it’s often because the life of someone they care about (or their own) was saved with medical technology or a certain procedure. Some may have a desire to “give back” so that more treatments can be developed and more lives can be saved. Learn how to make this choice, discuss it with your family, and fill out the paperwork to give your body to science.
Deciding to Donate Your Body to Science
Understand what happens when you donate your body to science. Before you die, you will have chosen a facility or program and filled out the necessary paperwork. After you die, someone will contact the facility or program which will usually collect your body. Once they have your body, several things could be done with it.
Donated bodies are used for testing new medical tools and equipment, testing car safety products, studying stages of advanced decay, studied for anatomy purposes, and testing new surgeries, among other things.
Choose between donating your organs or donating your body to science. Understand the pros and cons of each. With donating your organs, your family can still have hold a service for you and you can specify in advance which organs you’d like to donate. With body donation, your family may not get the chance to say goodbye before the body is collected. You also won’t be able to specify how it is used. Decide how much control you’d like to have over what happens to your body after your death.
Consider the great need for donated organs. Every day about 79 people receive an organ transplant while 18 die waiting for a donor. One organ donor can save 8 lives.
Most programs want a complete body donation. Other programs request that you pre-register any planned organ donations before donating your body.
Understand when body donation is not accepted. Some programs will not accept very obese bodies and most will not take bodies with certain medical conditions, like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, hepatitis, HIV, or tuberculosis.
Bodies that suffered extensive trauma or advanced decomposition won’t be accepted either.
Research programs and facilities. Look at programs for willed body donation within your state. When you do this, you should keep in mind what’s important to you. Here are a few of the things to consider when comparing available programs/facilities:
Costs: Some programs will pay for body transport to the collecting facility, while others will charge. Find out what your family will be responsible for paying.
Funeral or memorial options: Most programs will require almost immediate transportation of the body to the facility. You may want to find out when your cremated remains will be available to your family, if planning a service. They may be available several years after your death.
Assistance from the program: Some programs perform a memorial service after the body has been used and before it’s cremated. The program will complete the death certificate and might give information for an obituary.
Type of program: Some programs and facilities only use donated bodies for anatomical study. Others might use them as forensic tools to solve crimes, such as studying advanced decay. Make sure you’re comfortable with what the program will do with your body.
Medical school or body broker: You have the option of donating to a for-profit corporation that sells your body parts, called a “body broker,” or you can donate to a university medical school. Since the advent of the broker corporations, schools are having a shortage of tissue they need for research.
Discussing Your Decision
Inform your doctor and family members. It’s important that you tell your family about your decision before your death. If you do your research and make necessary preparations, your family won’t be left trying to understand your wishes. If you don’t inform your family, this surprise could delay them in getting your body to the right facility in time.
Check with the program you’re using about transportation costs. Most programs will pay to transport your body to the facility, but if you die far enough away from the facility, your family may be responsible for paying to get you there.
Discuss funeral or memorial options. Your family will not be able to hold a funeral with your body present and they should be prepared for this. It may affect their ability to find closure. Inform them that they can still hold a memorial service or attend a commemoration service at the facility where your body was donated.
Generally, the facility will cover the cost of cremation once the body is no longer being used for study, and some facilities have a cemetery plot where they will bury the bodies if that is requested. But, if your next-of-kin want the remains to be given back to them, they may end up having to cover the costs of cremation or burial.
Make alternative arrangements. While you may be a good candidate for body donation and you’ve correctly filled out the paperwork, your body may end up being rejected. If your body decomposed, suffered trauma, or experienced a major operation, you may not actually be accepted. Decide what you’d like done if body donation does not work out.
Again, make these wishes clear to your family, since they’ll be fulfilling them after your death. It’s always a good idea to put it into writing and notify your attorney.
Remember that you may be able to donate your organs even if you couldn’t donate your body. While the decision to harvest suitable organs will be made at the time of your death, you should fill out paperwork and inform your family in advance. This way, if your body isn’t accepted, your organs may be.
Filling Out the Paperwork to Donate Your Body to Science
Get the correct forms. Once you’ve decided to donate your body to science and have selected a specific program or facility, make sure to get a registration packet. This will usually contain details and the consent form. This form must be completed, returned, and acknowledged.
You may be given a wallet card to notify people of your intention to donate at the time of death. Carry it with you at all times.
Comply with details of the form. Some programs require you to fill out and sign the form in front of witnesses or a notary public. Be sure to read these details before filling out any paperwork.
For example, you may need multiple witnesses over the age of 21. Some programs specify that one witness must be a family member while the other should have legal ties to the family (like an attorney).
Update your paperwork. Just because you’ve successfully filled out and filed your body donation paperwork doesn’t mean you’re all set. You need to update your will to stipulate the program details of the body donation. This is especially important if you fear your family may not honor your wishes after your death.
If you change your mind about donating your body, you can always opt out of the program. To do this, notify the program in writing and file a copy with your attorney.
Understand and inform your family about the procedure after your death. While you may understand what will happen to your body after death, your family might be clueless about what it is they’re supposed to do. In most cases, your next of kin, spouse, executor of your will, or hospital facility will need to immediately get in touch with the medical program after your death. The facility will usually come pick up the body.
Have all the necessary program information and contact details available for your family so they aren’t burdened with details while dealing with your death.
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