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Millions of individuals have made the conscious decision to donate their organs or bodies after passing. Not only does this decision require reflection and consideration prior to passing, but it also requires an understanding of the process and the profound impact such a choice can have on others after death.
This article aims to briefly summarize the main considerations of organ and body donation.
Organ vs. Whole-Body Anatomical Donation
There are key differences between organ donation and whole-body anatomical donation. Most individuals are familiar with organ donation due to the consent question you see at your state’s driver’s license branch. If you are not familiar with that consent question, you can also register to donate at donor websites such as www.organdonor.gov and www.americantransplantfoundation.org. When you become an organ donor, you consent to have viable, healthy, transplantable organs such as your heart, kidney, liver, eye tissue, and other tissues, transplanted upon death to individuals on organ transplant lists.
Whole-body anatomical donation refers to donating whole-body tissues to educational, health, and/or research institutions for medical research. When you decide to donate your body and tissue to research, you are forwarding life-saving medical research, procedures, and techniques to save future lives. The process of donating your whole-body in this manner is different than consenting to be an organ donor. You or your family must contact a medical research institution such as the Mayo Clinic or a university research hospital in your area. Once in contact, ask to speak with the Anatomical Gift or Anatomical Donation programs at those institutions, where you will be thoughtfully and respectfully guided through the screening process of registering to become a whole-body donor.
For someone to become a deceased donor, they must pass away in very specific circumstances that allows for the patient to be put on artificial or mechanical support, which keeps blood with oxygen flowing to the organs. Therefore, even though many elect and register to be a deceased donor, in reality only a small percentage of those individuals end up doing so under the circumstances.
When considering becoming a donor, whether organ or whole-body, parties should consider the impact this will have on how to honor the deceased upon death. There are factors that limit traditional viewing or funeral services depending upon what type of donor you consent to be. For example, organ transplant organizations treat donors with dignity and respect, allowing for an open casket service or memorial to occur. Whereas anatomical donation institutions memorialize the donor by returning cremated remains to the donor’s family. Often times, updates on the important research being conducted on behalf of their donation will be provided to families of donors.
Honoring the deceased with a religious ceremony is of utmost importance to faith-based families. Most religious denominations view anatomical donations as the gift of ultimate charity to humanity and honor the decision of continued service and at their respective ceremonies. Speak with your faith leader for specific scripture and messaging to honor the donor at the appropriate time.
Donors and families are often concerned with costs associated with becoming a donor. Outside of any medical costs incurred prior to death, costs of donating and processing organs and tissues are never forwarded onto families of the deceased.
Becoming an anatomical donor offers yet another meaningful legacy for you or your loved one to be remembered by.