I am often asked by families with a recently or nearly deceased loved one, “Is body donation a viable option?” As a funeral director, I have researched body donation extensively as this subject was never broached in my field of study, at college. If one is considering body donation, there are many facts of which one must be aware.
Body donation is not a simple process that may be accomplished within a day or two. Body donation requires advanced preparation and has extensive restrictions. If you are considering body donation, I suggest you take the necessary steps toward its accomplishment at least one year, or more, before you anticipate its need. The majority of medical institutions, accepting body donations, necessitate all documents and requirements are acceptably completed six months prior to death.
In most cases, the decedent MUST be less than 6’4” in height. Males must weigh less than 200 lbs yet more than 120 lbs. Females must weigh less than 180 lbs yet more than 100 lbs. Decedents must also receive a unique embalming procedure within six to eight hours of death. He or she must have died within 100 miles of the accepting medical institution and arrive there within three days of death.
Likewise, the decedent MUST NOT be autopsied; an organ donor (exception; eyeballs only) nor have any unhealed surgery. Infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis, MRSA or Sepsis, contagious diseases, viral diseases or jaundice also render one unacceptable. One may not have been in medical isolation, nor have bodily injuries such as those commonly sustained from an automobile accident, suicide or invasive surgery. Decomposition, open wounds, ulcerations or bedsores also render one unsuitable. One may not be obese, emaciated nor have contractures. Ruptured aneurysm or malignancies spread to adjacent organs are also conditions for disqualification. (UTHS, DUSM, LSU)
In addition, bodies with opposing next of kin or presented by next of kin are rarely accepted. Acceptance into the program does not guarantee acceptance upon death. Institutions reserve the right to refuse or reject bodies at any time. If one previously has met the qualifications for donation, yet sustained condition changes during the process of dying, one may no longer meet the acceptable condition criteria for body donation. Additionally, if the institution has sufficient inventory, the cadaver will be rejected at time of death.
Cadaver usefulness usually expires six months to three years after research has begun. In most cases, one’s family may receive one’s cremains if requested. Due to the uniqueness of medical research embalming requirements, one’s person is generally unrecognizable. This procedure protects the anonymity of the cadaver.
Body donation is a worthwhile gift of oneself to humanity; however, if one has chosen and been accepted into the program, one should consider and financially prepare for alternative plans as well. In so doing, one may pass in peace, knowing that in any scenario, one’s family will not be burdened with unanticipated financial crisis.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and professional speaker. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences to "Make Life Right". It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.