Donating Your Body to a Medical School
Giving organs or total body to grateful recipients
It's a tough issue that many people would rather not consider: the administrative and practical problems at the time of transition to the next life. Perhaps because of this reluctance to deal with one's own death, it seems that the useful information is not easily available. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that this is an area covered by state law. Therefore, variations exist depending where one is when the chariots come to take him or her onward.
In Pennsylvania, choosing this charitable act is made relatively easy. When obtaining or renewing your driver's license, you are asked to check a box if you want to be an organ donor. Ta-da! You are done. Beneath your picture on the license, the words "organ donor" are printed and your wishes are now known. Another option is to telephone 1-877-DONOR-PA to have a card to carry with the same information. For further information in PA, you can contact the Department of Health.
A funny story
As easy as it is to learn how to help others in desperate need of an organ, it is perversely difficult to figure out how to aid medical research through the donation of your entire body. I am the caregiver for a family member with incurable, slow-growing leukemia. For tried the last three years I tried intermittently to learn what the procedures are in my state. These attempts included calling the organ donation people and calling medical schools. No knowledgeable sources were reached. However, since there was no urgency I let the inquiry slide.
Recently, however, I experienced a scare which required nailing down the process. This time I tried calling a research facility associated with a medical school. The lovely person with whom I spoke did not know the answers, but assured me she would locate someone who could help me. True to her word, she arranged for another in the vast complex to call me an hour later.
This person identified herself as staff with the cancer research. She praised me and thanked us for our desire to support the field of medicine through body donation. Then she explained, "We do research, but we are not prepared to ....[awkward pause]...to accept the kind of gift you are offering." Well, in matters such as these you've got to laugh or cry. I just cracked up. She was so sweet in trying to put so delicately the news about not wanting a corpse.
Uniform Anatomical Gift Act
Here is part of the reason I had trouble with my research. I was using search keywords such as "body" and "donate." However, the magic term seems to be anatomical gifts. Again, this is a process that varies by state, but a conference of commissioners who propose the language for state laws have developed a recommendation which they hope all states will follow.
Medical school donation
I was directed to people who could answer my questions. Although I will not bet the house on my having it completely straight, here is the procedure in Pennsylvania. There is a non-profit agency named The Humanity Gifts Registry. This agency, in existence since 1883, deals with record-keeping of donors, and the receipt and distribution of these priceless donations. Potential donors must complete two copies of a very short card and sign it with two witnesses. One card is mailed to the registry and the other is kept by the donor. When the time comes, the Registry has a 24/7 phone number.
Humanity Gifts Registry
Philadelphia, PA 19102-0835
Costs and considerations
Despite this being one of the ultimate gifts, in PA there will be costs for the family or survivors. You will want to check into this. Also, some options for final resting place may be taken away when you make a donation to a medical school. And, there is a slim possibility that the donated body may not be suitable for medical school use. These are all matters you may want to explore and understand.
If you have a personality style or preference for being prepared, I hope this article has been of use to you. PLEASE add comments if you can enlighten readers how things work in other states. Namaste.
More on Organ Donation
Copyright 2008 Maren E. Morgan
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