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Morbid question: How to donate body to science?


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Ok, so I'll admit this might be a bit morbid....however....  as life evolves we need to face certain issues.


Situation:  Mother in nursing home, alzheimers.  Probably has 10% of her memory left although my sisters might say that's a bit high.


Irrespective of that, like everyone, her life is ticking towards its conclusion.  I'm trying to find out about the subject prior to her passing so I'm not forced to make a decision within "X" number of hours.


She was a nurse.  In the beginning of her career, worked at a teaching hospital.  Always loved the education aspect of her job, trying to help others help themselves.  Later, she worked in the operating room and in the last of her career, worked in home health care.  


Now it's her turn to need and others are helping her.


When her time comes, the two sisters & I have talked about burial, cremation and donation (I brought up the donation)


She has nothing stipulated and today is gone enough that if she did stipulate anything she'd change it in 10 minutes, only to change it back later.


I brought up the donation aspect to my sisters because I think Mom would appreciate the teaching aspect that she could provide even after she's gone.


Where does one go to figure out the process?


Do you have that conversation at the facility in which she would pass?

Do you make provisions prior?  (which is essentially what I'm trying to do so there are no surprises)


Anyone walk this path and care to provide me some private (if you don't want to discuss it openly) or public information?


Also, if it matters, she resides in Georgia, just outside Atlanta.






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I've been a registered donor since 1999 which means in NC a small heart is put on your drivers license in case of an accident.  The most important thing to address is that the next of kin must know of your intention to donate.


Prior to my wife's death she received a kidney and two pancreas's from donors which greatly improved her quality of life for her last twelve years.  She was an advocate for organ donations and talked to civic groups from time to time.


Glad you brought this up Richard.  I have a card in my wallet that states....My Commitment To Share Life.  It reads as follows.  I have spoken with my family about organ donation and wish to become a donor.  I wish to donate any needed organs and tissues.   The remainder will be used as needed to include benefitting medical science through teaching institutions.  


The card is signed by you, dated, and witnessed.  Keep the donor card with you at all times but most importantly....let your next of kin know!

Edited by Tarheel
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I have done the same as Chuck. On my licence the is a small heart that indicates that I am a organ donor. 


I also understand what your going through with your mom. My wife's mom has alzheimers....It's really tough...Both my in-laws still live in there house.  Mom & Dad are in there late 70's.. Dad still gets around and his mind is still "ok"  but he cannot keep up with mom.. my wife and I have been on him about moving to a "community" where he can get some help with her. 

She does not drive any more and my wife does all the cooking for them. Right now she is preparing meals for the week for them. We send the kids up to the house to do the cleaning and lawn work....yea it's tough....cuz we got our own house and the shop to keep up with. But with out the help  my farther-in-law gave me and my wife...we would not have our shop and we would not be in our house....So I will help in any way I can...


Back to the donor topic....have you contacted the alzheimers association??? I think they study the brain's of alzheimers patience. Also I might think that the hospital might point you in the right direction.... 


Without sounding cold...IMHO if your mom's body can do any good for any medical research that would be better that not doing anything at all.... Like you said....she was in the heath care field and in her passing if her body can do any good I think she would be happy with that.


Yea this is a tough time for you .....I feel-ya my man....things will work out.....they just do...


Wishing the best for you in this tough time.. 


Your friend.. 


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I can only say that a good friend of mine was dying. Without going into details, this man didn't have money and wanted to try to minimize the financial impact to his family\friends with funeral costs.


So, he donated his body to Des Moines Medical University. Physical done, papers signed, he got his card.


Oh the day of his death, we (hospice and myself) called the University and told them that my friend had passed and was ready to be picked up.


The University said~ they didn't want his body anymore - he didn't "fit their needs". Believe me, there was a conversation in which I asked alot of questions but the bottom line is they weren't obligated to follow thru with the "contract".


So, on the worst day possible, we find we have to make all the funeral arrangements. It wasn't easy, it wasn't pleasant and it certainly wasn't cheap. It was quite a kick in the teeth.


Moral of the story - if you think the body is donated (and maybe this is just Iowa) - be prepared to have the body rejected.


All that being said, I'm hoping things go as well as possible for you and your mother.

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Richard, call me and I can take you through the steps.

As a general proposition, organ donation is now possible in all 50 states. Most by filling out a simple form at DMV/DPS. Medical staff will still typically discuss it with family who is on life support, they do this for a number of reasons I won't get into here unless people are really interested.

I am obviously not a transplant physican, but my sister has worked on pediatric transplant teams in the past. It is my understanding that elderly people do not really have anything the is viable for donation but you can ask. Generally speaking, if someone has not previously signed a donor card, their family can agree to do so by agreement with doctors, hospital administration, etc. with standard state approved forms.

Donating your body "to science' is a completely different matter. This is not organ transplantation. Your body is transferred to a medical facility, which you can specify, for general study, or specific limited study. This typically require prearrangments by the donor, while they are of "sound state of mind." This is generally where cadavers for medical, dental, nursing school come from.

Alzheimer's and dementia are under heavy study and investigation. I am sure that the Alzheimer's association, whatever it is called, can answer general questions about the need, if any, of bodies for study, etc. They can also explain what generally the bodies are used for. It may be as simple as taking a brain biopsy to confirm Diagnosis, up to removal, disection and study of the brain. They can typically tell you what researchers are in need of, and what generally happens on those who donate themselves to such programs.

Every state is going to be different as to who can authorize the donation of a body, or parts thereof for research. I think most are going to require this can only be chosen by the Donor, as reflected in a written document, and while of sound mind.

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From Alz.org, which has a 24/7 hotline number and a number of services for patients and their families.

Autopsy / Brain Donation

The Chapter provides information to families who are considering autopsy for the confirmation of the Alzheimer's diagnosis. Information on brain donation programs is also available.

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I appreciate the thoughts.


My thinking is two-fold.


1.  I think she would appreciate teaching any lessons or giving any parts she can as she leaves.

2.  I think the funeral industry is a bit too interested in the financial aspect of someone's wallet in their final days.  I'd rather any of her meager last assets go to the family rather than a funeral home.


I (think) I've come to decent terms with where she is and what is on her horizon.  I seem to be more prepared and accepting of it than my two sisters. So in that light, my goal is to make her comfortable and assist to the degree I can, emotionally.  Beyond that, my "mother" is already essentially gone and the body that is running around half naked, calling the police oh wait....I'll tell that story below....  and being belligerent isn't "mom" so in my view she's essentially gone already.


Police:  A year or so ago, my sister picked up my mother and a couple of her gal-pal's at the assisted living home.  They each had a lanyard around their neck with the name of the place, their name and perhaps their picture (I don't recall).  So, sister picks them up to go shopping.  Drops them off at K-mart, Walmart or something like that.  Leaves to run a couple errands and comes back to pick them up in an hour.


Upon driving back to pick them up, they're all outside at the curb....the police are there.  Mom starts yelling to the cop "there she is", "she's the one who's been holding me prisoner"


To which my sister was utterly confused...  what the heck is mom talking about?


So the cop pulls sister to the side...she's facing a serious accusation of holding that lady hostage.


She's accused of holding that lady hostage....who is standing with her gal-pals, at the store, bag of goodies in her hands, free to roam.


Seems the cop had a moment of confusion trying to digest these facts....  then sister had to explain that Mom was staying at the assisted living home about 2 miles away and notice their lanyards around their necks?


Cop turned Mom & the gals over to to Mom's captor and my sister took them back to the assisted living home, bags & all.


Now, I personally, got a kick out of that story because I've already emotionally accepted where Mom is.  This day however, seemed to really bother my sister and that is when I realized she (both sisters) haven't really come to the acceptance of what is going on.


I won't get into the running around half naked nor starting the food fight in the cafeteria.

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Thank you Travis....we were typing at same time.


I realize at 84, she won't have too many parts that people would want to interchange with themselves.


I was thinking more along the lines of 1st year med student having to go through Anatomy.


I've even talked to JC and tried to reach Paul about this to ask quite seriously....  "when you were in medical school and had your anatomy class.....  how respectful where they?"


You might have a funny movie where they give their cadaver a name and do stupid things with the body.  For all I know, this could happen if you have someone taking it a bit light hearted.


I wouldn't expect it to be all sullen & somber....  but I would expect (hope) it would be respectful.  JC said in his experience, it was.


I think I could deal with that.  Not sure about both sisters so have brought it up with them to plant the seed and give them time to decide why they don't like it (which is then fine by me) or, come to grips and be ok with it.

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That was my sister's experience as well. Their faces are covered at all times, there isn't really any joking around after the first day, and she said any jokers would be asked what bones make up the "this" to be answered in front of the whole class. After that it is tremendous work, literally going through the body layer by layer.

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Dad went to the University medical school in Iowa City and Mom will too when the time comes. It is all prearranged. His cremains were returned to us about a year and a half after his body took the ride and now reside in the columbaruim at the National Cemetery on the Rock Island Arsenal.

I wish I'd found Klipsch before I lost him. He would have loved it.

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Hope all works out for you coyote man! Alz is a terrible disease. Hard on families.

Alz affects many many people. I want to be was out front of that one. The worst idea in my mind is to be trapped in dementia for 20 years not knowing my family. I won't let that happen. If I got that DX I will end life before the dementia wins. I will never ever be the guy where my family says "he doesn't even recognize us." That's too much hurt to put on someone. Time is up? Time is up! Go with grace!

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I understand where you're coming from.


Couple years ago, I had dinner with a nice couple.  He was an engineer which on its face, isn't relevant but for they (engineers) are typically meticulous and flesh out all the details.


During the dinner, I started asking about insurance....he said they were self insured.  I was a bit curious about that.  They had assets but not enough to cover things like this (for example)


Turns out he was battling cancer.  for the type it was, he knew that though he might be in current remission, it was likely to come back and if it did it would likely be aggressive.


His last lap of life would probably be very difficult on him and exceedingly expensive on the family.


His insurance?  Two tickets.  One round trip, other was one-way to (if I recall) Oregon (Utah?)  Somewhere where they allowed assisted suicide.  He was flying one-way and his wife had the round trip to bring his remains back.


He was going to very rationally (and engineer like) live his life and if it returned, he was going to wait until he felt the time was right and he was going to walk into his end upright of his own accord rather than let the disease chew him up.


It was a very fascinating conversation to have and also, to have it very frank.


No idea how that ever turned out.

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Coytee, I just wanted to say I hope you have good luck with your Mom, whatever route you take, that's a major decision. My Mom died of Alzheimer's five years ago, it's a very sad time. Just remember the good times.


Yeah...I appreciate it.  My grandfather walked this walk as well (her father) so we've been through it once.


Interestingly, when she was 65 or sixty something....  she became stressed out.  She said that nobody in her family had lived past the age 69.  Both her mother and father died when they were 69 and she could not comprehend her life beyond that age.


She'll be 84 in October.


you go girl!



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my dad died from alzheimers 15 years ago, now i have a sister in a home with it.... a fews weeks ago me and my older brother went to see my sister, after we left we went out to eat and i noticed my brother asking me the same questions over and over..... just like my sister does... i sat there looking at him thinking he has it also....   it just running through my family like no tomorrow....  but it doesn't bother me that i may get or have it.....  I'm happy with the  life i lived and thankful for it....  i'll just stay home and play my sound system as long as they let me....  maybe by then i wont know enough for anything to matter to me....

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