I Woke Up Dead…Now What?!
Welcome to a candid #conversation about #life. This is a safe place to share #experiences, learn best practices, and ask the tough questions in order to prepare for end-of-life realties we all will face, not only for ourselves, but our #pets too!
Not long ago, a couple came in to pre-arrange their funeral. The conversation we had was not what they had expected. During our visit, frustration was apparent. It instantly became clear that what is involved with donating a body to science, is not as straight-forward as one might think. This blog post is meant to clarify exactly what takes place and what to expect, when a person elects to donate their body to science.
First and foremost, let’s not confuse “Body Donation” with “Organ Donation/Harvesting”. They are two entirely different scenarios and protocols.
- Organ donation is what the Secretary of State asks a person when they renew their driver’s license. If they say “yes” it is noted on the back of their driver’s license that should they die in an accident emergency responders would know the protocols of how to preserve the body until the harvesting of the organs can be done.
- When an individual dies and there is no indication or discussion about organ donation, a company called “Gift of Life” will call the family and ask them if they would consider this as an option.
- Once the organs are harvested, the family arranges for the deceased’s body to be returned to their funeral home of choice for the necessary arrangements and next steps.
- Organs or body parts that are donated can be bought. Presently there are minimal restrictions in place.
Body Donations operated under completely different premises.
When an individual donates their body to science, the intention is that the deceased’s body will be sent to a teaching university, hospital, or mortuary school. Individuals who request this for the final care of their human body tend to elect this for one of two reasons. The first being altruistic. They want others to learn and benefit so they can help others. The second reason usually revolves around finances. There is a large misconception that there are no costs associated with body donation.
Here’s where the confusion about price begins. Yes, it is true that there may be no fees incurred from the receiving university for the intake of the body, or for the actual cremation of the body itself. What people don’t take into consideration are three very important items.
- A funeral home must be involved.
- Associated costs incurred.
- Your body could be rejected!
Let’s address the “why’s” behind these three unavoidable factors when a person chooses to donate their body to science.
Why is a funeral home necessary?
- Transportation – When a person dies, they will have to be transported from the place where death occurred, to the funeral home, then ultimately to the teaching facility who will benefit from the body donation.
- In the majority of states, there are laws that require a funeral home or specified approved forensic / medical agent to transport the deceased. This is for many reasons, including health and safety, along with providing dignity and respect for the deceased. Therefore, an employee or transport/care team acting under the supervision of a licensed funeral home can legally transport.
- Often there is a time delay between death and delivery to the accepting teaching facility. Funeral homes are licensed and equipped to store the deceased respectfully until the teaching facility has given the green light of acceptance.
- Death Certificates: Unless the medical examiner issues a death certificate, the funeral home will be responsible for generating the death certificate.
- Burial Transit Permit. This permit is generated from the funeral home and the health department, documenting death has occurred, allowing for burial or cremation to take place.
This permit is also necessary when crossing state lines, along with being given to the cemetery when a deceased is buried.
**Note: Some states, not many, will allow the general public to transport a deceased legally. (Texas is one of them) Bottom line, know the state’s rules and don’t assume. Each state has their own set of rules.
Why are costs incurred?
Costs are incurred for 3 primary reasons:
- Transportation – As mentioned above, a care team of professionals need to be on call to bring the deceased into the funeral home’s care.
- Professional Services – In order for the care to be able to transport, they need to be under the supervision of a licensed funeral home. There are costs associated with a funeral home such as employee wages, vehicles, equipment, body storage and insurance, to name a few.
- Death Certificates and Permits – A licensed funeral director must sign the death certificate and the funeral home must generate a burial transit permit. Between the funeral director’s time and the county’s charges for the certificates and permits there is an affiliated cost.
How can a person’s body be rejected for donation?
Sounds strange right? One would think that a body, regardless of the condition, would be suitable for teaching. This is not the case. There are many variables that can negatively impact a deceased body from being donated.
Here is a brief list:
- How death occurred.
- How long a person was deceased before they were discovered?
- If they are morbidly obese, septic, or have an infectious disease at the time of death.
- The teaching facility was full and not accepting donations when death occurred.
It’s always best to have a back-up plan.
When considering body donation, one should think of having a “Plan B” just in case. Often people will elect to have an immediate cremation when a donation does not work out.
What happens to a donated body after the teaching facility is finished with it?
When the teaching facility has completed their procedures, what remains of the deceased is cremated and mailed via United States Postal Service to the next of kin. Each place has a different timeline for returning, however the average length of time is six months.
In closing – body donation is a wonderful gift. How else can doctors, surgeons, funeral directors, dentists, and other specialists learn? Like anything else, the devil is in the details and when considering this, always have a back up plan.