Become an Organ Donor


By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

My mother wanted to donate her body to science after her death; she talked about this for years but did nothing to ensure her wish would actually become reality.  The thought made me a bit queasy.  I didn’t want my mother’s body used for experimental research even though I believe that the spirit goes elsewhere, leaving the body here on earth.

I later discovered that many people have imagined fears about becoming an organ donor.  One of the fears is that becoming a donor prevents one from having a regular funeral.  This is not true, an open casket and viewing are still possible.  Beyond this, fears include a distrust of the medical system in how body parts may be used and a concern that illness, age or physical defects make individuals ineligible to be donors.

Donor AwarenessAccording to the Donor Awareness Council, there were 97,000 persons waiting for organ transplants in 2006 with only 29,000 actually receiving life saving transplants.  In very rough figures, only slightly more than 25% of people needing transplants receive them.  The most popular needs are for kidney, liver, heart, lung, kidney/pancreas, pancreas, intestine and heart/lung transplants.  There is also a high demand for tissue (bone, and skin), cornea and blood donors.

There is no age limit for organ donation; however there are specific clinical requirements which affect the number of possible transplants.  For organ transplants, the donor must die in a hospital and remain there until donations can be completed.  The amount of time a body part can be preserved is very limited and except for kidneys is usually less than 16 hours.  There are slightly less restrictive requirements for cornea transplants in some cases.  Once the person has been qualified as a donor there are no costs to the family.

Many professionals do not consider discussing organ donation with their clients.  This could be a point of discussion for clinicians, financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents and those involved in general discussions of healthcare.  Since becoming a donor may seem like a morbid discussion it’s likely a frequently omitted discussion.

In Colorado donor registration is available through the Colorado Organ & Tissue Donor Registry.  Signing up for the registry is not irreversible.  Individuals can change their minds at any time.  Call the Donor Awareness Council at (303) 388-8605 for additional information.

There is also the donation of the body for plastination.  An exhibit traveling through many science museums across the United Stated called “Bodyworks”, provided visitors a view of actual bodies plastinated to show muscle structure and illness.  Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of plastination, has dedicated his life to this discipline.  Individuals have the ability to donate their bodies to for plastination and further studies to Body Worlds located in Beverly Hills, California.

For those interested in scientific use of their bodies to further medical research, options are available and should be placed in writing and notarized.  A copy of this document should be delivered anytime a hospital stay is involved so that the wishes of the individual may be carried out in the case of an unexpected or adverse event.

© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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