Donating an organ or even a whole body for scientific study or medical education is a relatively common event, which permits a person with perhaps a rare or not well understood disease to contribute to medical science.  Even if the person passes without a disease or any unique characteristics, medical schools need these volunteers for very important work.  Some people see their act as an act of charity, a way of giving a gift to society.  Organ donation helps to reach even more people by providing spare parts for surgeons, for those who need a replacement organ or tissue.  It has been estimated that 114,000 Americans are awaiting organ transplants and that one person is added to the list every 11 minutes and that each year 6,600 people die each year while on the organ transplant list.  


In 2005, the New York legislature passed a law which made it easier to give an anatomical gift.  Organ donation is easy enough now, as it can be a mere check the box designation on your driver’s license.  No additional signatures or witnesses are needed.  New York further permits a person to validly donate their organs or their whole body by way of will.  If the will is later invalidated, the donation is considered valid and any physician or medical school acting on the gift is shielded from liability.  Some people with religious or moral objections to donating their body may still decide to donate organs without violating their conscience or religion.  Even with these provisions in place, it is still best to discuss these decisions with your family and loved ones.  


New York adopted the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in significant regards.  This streamlines the process by implementing the above noted reforms, which seem simple enough, but allow for an adult’s decision to be their own and respected by the law.  Other reforms speak to the same issue of empowering individuals to make their own decisions, by making it easier for a person to rescind their decision.


While organ donation is better known to many people as a relatively normal matter to address upon the passing of a loved one, it is not so with donating a body.  In many cases, the individual medical schools have their own requirements, such that there are a hodgepodge of rules.  Some only accept bodies from so far away.  Others will only accept bodies of a certain body mass index and almost none will accept bodies with certain infectious diseases, except under special conditions.  Usually the person who wants to donate their body has to communicate with the medical school in advance and will be up to the family to alert the medical school about their passing.  After the medical school is no longer able to effectively use the body it is often cremated.  

Whatever your decision is with organ or tissue donation or body donation it should always be in the context of your larger goals, which should be clearly spelled out in clear detail.  A trusted elder law attorney can help you speak with clarity in this very important matter.  

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