Whole Body Donation? Here’s How & Why

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Mortui Prosumus Vitae
Even in Death, Do We Serve Life

Helping others, paying it forward, increasing knowledge, and saving lives… All noble pursuits, though not many of us can say we’ve actually saved a life. Even fewer have saved multiple lives. Whole body donation allows you the potential to improve the health and well-being of future generations… Sound good?

While organ and tissue donation is slightly more common, far fewer donors of the whole-body variety come forward. Although there is a growing awareness that body donations to universities are essential for education and research, many people simply do not have the paperwork in place in advance of their passing.  As well, they may not be aware that many religions support this kind of selfless act. Donating your body is a generous act that ensures future medical professionals gain much needed skills and knowledge.

Body donation is fairly simple to arrange if done in advance: filing basic paperwork with a donor program (usually a medical school located within a university) is easily done. Scan and upload your response/acceptance from the school in Check-Out’s “The Big Event” section in the Mortal Remains folder. Your team will know to notify the donor program immediately following your passing. Representatives from the medical school will send professionals to collect your remains and transport it back to the medical school, usually without cost.

Do you think that whole body donation may be right for you? Read on to learn the basic steps of donating your body to science to have it become a life-saving instrument, fueling advances in medical science.

Why donate?

Donating your body to medical science helps society in a variety of ways. The most important is to train future doctors and surgeons. Also, it is possible that your donation may help find cures to a variety of diseases. Many families take comfort in knowing that their loved ones continue to make a positive impact for future generations, even after death.

As well, body donation can greatly reduce the cost of funeral expenses by simply taking the body out of the equation.

Body donation programs

Each country and every university’s medical school offer slightly different steps for body donation. Taking steps now to ensure you are listed a registered donor is essential to making a successful donation. A web search or a phone call will let you know if the university you’re interested in has a Body Donation Program and what their procedure is. There are many options across Canada, the United States and Europe, as well as other parts of the world, such as Australia and South Africa. Chances are that where you live, there’s a school of anatomy somewhere nearby.

Distance is one of the most important factors to consider. You may want to donate to your alma mater or a local university, but when choosing a school, it’s important that it’s close to your home since transportation costs may become a factor when considering where to donate.

As the various schools have different minimum age requirements to consent to donate your body, make sure to check with the school prior to applying. In the UK, 17 years of age is the minimum while 18 is the age of consent in many places in the US and Canada. At the University of British Columbia for instance, the minimum age is 30 years old.

How to apply

At some schools and in some countries, such as the UK, you must give consent prior to your death and have a witnessed copy of your consent left with your will. In the US, consent can be given after death by your legal next of kin. The school you’ve chosen will offer clear instruction on their donation policies and procedures.

Visit the list provided in Check-Out’s Mortal Remains form (located inside The Big Event section.) Once you’ve determined which university you’re donating to, download and fill out their form in duplicate. One copy goes to the university and the other is provided to your next-of-kin, executor or team member. It is helpful to leave one with your doctor as well, since your medical history will be requested by the university’s School of Medicine when the time comes.

Logistics of donation

As soon as possible after death, the executor, next of kin or team member must contact the Body Donation Program. A few questions will determine whether the body is still acceptable for donation. Not all bodies can be accepted, depending on the cause of death and state of the body. If the body is deemed acceptable, the school’s transport service will be dispatched to collect the donor. Time is of the essence. Your body needs to arrive at the university within 48-72 hours of death, depending the particular school’s strict time-frame.

Your whole-body donation does not affect the ability to have a celebration of life or funeral service without your body being present. If you wish your loved ones to gather for a funeral service, it is important to communicate this information prior to passing.

Potential donation costs

For accepted donations, all costs are usually covered by the university’s Body Donation Program, which include transportation of the body, cremation and interment or returning the ashes to the family. If death occurs outside of the school’s city limits or the remains are not transported by the school’s approved funeral home the transport, costs won’t be covered by the school, but instead by your estate or next of kin.

In many ways, body donation could be considered an important cost-saving measure.

After the donation

Many schools offer a timeframe ranging from 6 months to 3 years before the respectfully cremated remains are returned to the family or interred in the school’s designated memorial garden or cemetery. However, some schools such as UC Davis do not return the ashes. It may be best to consult with your family and friends when considering donation to assess their wishes as well.

Typically, schools of anatomy offer an annual memorial service that family and friends of the donors are invited to attend. Donors and their selfless generosity are honoured and remembered.

In conclusion

If you feel that whole body donation is right for you, now is the time to file your paperwork with your executor, next of kin and/or team member. As well, upload your approval from the school in the Mortal Remains section of Check-Out’s The Big Event workspace and your team will know what to do. Keep in mind that you can always change your mind at a later date. As life and relationships change, so may your end-of-life plans. In death, you may not have a voice, but life is ever-changing and it’s important to stay current with your wishes and have them be known.

By C. Bowles for Check-Out Services Ltd. Copyright © 2019

CheckOutPlan.com is an easy to use website to help people just like you plan end-of-life events, and it can be updated anytime. Communicating last wishes with loved ones eases their stress and worry by sharing your clear and concise instructions. As well, share the memories by uploading your stories, photos and songs that shape you. Check-Out is for people who care…

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