Respecting Their Wishes: Donating the Body

Many seniors plan ahead for their final days and include in their estate plan funeral directives as well as other wishes. However, more seniors are adding unique and unusual requests regarding their final wishes, including donating their bodies to science. The elderly are choosing to donate for a variety of reasons: some were involved with the profession, some wish to contribute to science, and others want their bodies to contribute to society in some way.

However, donating your loved one’s body can be more difficult than you think, and it is important to know what to do beforehand in order to fulfill their final wishes.

Body Donation Issues

One couple in California recently went through the struggle of fulfilling one father’s dying wish to have his body donated to science. When the husband went into hospice care, his daughter attempted to find a suitable place to donate the body.

She found that some places require that you be within a certain driving distance or number of miles away. Other places required that the donor sign a number of forms, which her father was unable to do in his condition. Some donation sites require that the donor sign the form, and not a family member or even someone with the power of attorney.

Finally, his daughter found a medical school that emailed over a simple document, collected her father’s body, and asked what his widow’s wishes were for his remains once the school was finished using his body. However, knowing the requirements ahead of time would have saved the family a lot of scrambling during his final days.

The Need for Body Donation

Many people ask why it is still necessary in this day for medical professionals to continue to need cadavers. Although most of the 170 medical schools across the country have implemented digital instruction into their anatomy labs, every single one of them still uses cadavers in some way in their instruction.

Dentists, physical therapists, and nurse practitioners all use cadavers in their training, as well. So do technicians and surgeons who need to practice or are working on developing new techniques. And although the need for donated bodies continues, the actual process of donating the body of an elderly loved one takes time, planning, and documentation.

Body Donation Law

Body donation is governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, first introduced in 2006. It has been adopted by 48 states, and it allows any individual to sign a “document of gift” that donates organs, tissue, or the full body for transplantation, therapy, research, or education. The law also provides that if the donor did not make arrangements during his life to donate his body, family members or a person with the power of attorney can do so for him. The list of family members allowed to donate the body is inclusive: parents, children, grandchildren, and spouse. The only exception is if the donor signed a form refusing donation.

Organ donation typically receives the most press, partially because everyone has heard of how organ transplantation can help, but also because of the federal law that requires hospitals to refer families to the federal organ procurement organization.

However, if your elderly loved one wishes to donate his body to science, arrangements must typically be made with a specific school. Each school has wide latitude to set its own policies regarding acceptance of donated bodies. Some schools have requirements beyond the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act regarding who can agree to donate, how far away the body can be, and even down to the specific body type that they will take.

Thankfully, a few states: Indiana, Florida, Maryland, and Illinois have set up state anatomical boards to make the process easier. The board intakes all donated bodies and distributes them to the schools in that state as they are needed.

Contact Information