I visited my husband’s grave a couple of days ago. The marker had just recently been set and I wanted to make sure all was well. I admit it was difficult seeing my name on the marker as well but I am comforted knowing my final plans are set in stone. I ran my hand over the smooth marble and let the fresh dirt beside it filter through my fingers. I needed to touch it, touch him. I pictured myself rubbing his back and I silently let him know I was with him still.
My sister died even more recently and I don’t have that comfort. I can’t sit at her grave and contemplate all the things we would have done with all the time we wished we would have had. Nevertheless, I am comforted that her final wishes were carried out.
She wanted to donate her body to science. After fighting a lengthy battle with a cancer she only recently knew she had, she wanted her body to help someone else. She had been in pain for years and had numerous surgeries and only in her last days with excruciating pain did she learn she had bone cancer.
Thankfully, the hospice workers who were so kind to her were able to provide more information to help her and our family know what to do. When the time came, after my sister left her delicate body, her last request was granted.
Biogift is a service organization that facilitates the placement of human organs, tissues and specimens for education and research through whole body donation. They don’t do any research themselves and only place non-transplantable organs with respected companies and institutions such as medical schools.
There is a process to such a donation and state and federal laws dictate that informed consent be given by the legal next of kin if the donor has not preregistered.
There is no cost to the family and after death has been confirmed by the local authorities, consent has been given and Biogift has been notified, transportation arrangements are made. Fortunately, and unlike many medical schools, a great distance is not a problem. My sister passed away in Florida and her body was transported to Biogift in Portland, Oregon. Again, at no cost to the family.
While most everyone is a candidate, Biogift makes no guarantees until an assessment is made at the time of death. Persons with communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, viral Hepatitis or Tuberculosis may not donate. Severe obesity or embalming of the body would also preclude donation.
Once the donation has been accepted, tissues are matched with medical researchers and educators. Biogift has a noncomprehensive list of supported research on their website including Alzheimer’s, Cancer and numerous others. While not guaranteeing a donor’s request that specific research be benefited, they do make every effort to place the specific tissues as requested.
After all studies have been completed, the body is then cremated. If desired, a portion of the cremated remains is sent to the family at no charge.
While not my sister’s motivation, some donors may make a pragmatic decision to bequeath their bodies as funeral and burial costs continue to rise.
I’m glad my sister told us what she wanted to do and why. It makes it easier when I imagine sitting beside her grave talking to her. I’m glad, too, that our family honored her decision because after all, her final resting place is in our hearts.