Recently, a woman announced definitively that she was going to be an organ donor when she died. Her assuredness contradicted reality, as circumstances of death must mesh with stringent parameters in order for transplants to happen. In spite of good intentions, often transfers of innards to living recipients are not possible. Of course, there won’t be any utterance of “Darn, I am so disappointed!” coming from her if the potential donor is deemed an unsuitable candidate. But family members may feel sorely deflated, knowing that this woman had been hell-bent on having her internal leftovers benefit the lives of others.
Organ and tissue transplants have evolved during the past century to the point where they are in the forefront of people’s minds in connection with death and dying. Perhaps folks are less apt to consider the alternative avenue for a whole body donation to support research, education, and skill enhancement. But think of the multitude of scientists, practitioners, technical innovators, students, and varied personnel whose work relates to health and quality of human life. Their best teachers are apt to be the decedents who contributed their physical substance for the enhancement of personal proficiency and societal progress.
Within its national network of five tissue banks in different regions of the country, MedCure – a whole body donation program founded in 2005 – provides unembalmed (frozen), non-transplantable organs and tissues to medical research and education providers around the world.
There is no cost to the family, as long as the firm is contacted after death occurs instead of a random funeral home. Its personnel manage every detail, including transportation from the place of death to the closest MedCure facility via arrangements with one of their contracted funeral homes. Acquisition of the standard death certificate and disposition permit is part of the process.
Tucked inconspicuously behind one of many corporate enterprises lining a long road in Cumberland, Rhode Island, an ordinary building belies the extraordinary operations underway inside it. Besides serving as a collection center for distribution of physical elements, this particular site is also a place of learning… a facility where surgical skills are honed and educational lab experiences are conducted, thanks to donor contributions of whole bodies.
Even high school students can be exposed in this manner to the intricacies of the human body, sometimes engendering an inclination toward health-related vocational pursuits or even enlightenment that changes deleterious personal practices such as smoking.
The environment here is modern and spacious, with state-of-the-art technology and knowledgeable staff.
Lab managers are certified as tissue specialists capable of preparing, managing, and monitoring specimens in addition to assisting with procedures. A 2500 square-foot laboratory space with fifteen surgical stations mimics operating room milieus, featuring lights equipped with video cameras that relay procedural details to learners situated in a nearby auditorium space that accommodates up to one hundred observers.
Computer stations and a locker room offer additional amenities for visiting bio-skills participants.
When hunger strikes, a large room connected to a small kitchen is the place where catered meals are provided.
Bodily donations can be accepted from all continental states, with the exception of New Jersey and Minnesota. There are no age restrictions. Some, but not many, disease conditions would render specimens unusable. The more likely exclusions include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C, a history of intravenous drug use, incarceration or institutionalization, and severe under- or overweight. Anyone with terminal cancer can be pre-screened to determine eligibility. So this type of donation can be an alternative to medical school donations, which may be more restrictive.
A circulating truck makes the rounds between headquarters in Portland, OR and the sites in Henderson, NV, Orlando, FL, St. Louis, MO, and Cumberland, RI to pick up and deliver the precious resources. Besides the facility in Rhode Island, the ones in Oregon and Nevada also have bioskills laboratories on site.
Every specimen is tested and must meet defined criteria before being distributed. At time of death a matching process follows a review of the donor’s medical status to pair the bodily components with the most appropriate educational or research applications. Later, the family can be apprised of the ways in which use of the donated body were implemented.
When a decision to donate is declared prior to death, donation forms are accompanied by a request for health and social histories, including medical records.
A specimen for training purposes is used only once, followed by cremation as soon as possible – typically, within six to twelve weeks. Family members have appreciated the container provided for the cremated remains, which is a heart-shaped box.
So even if organ transplants into living bodies is preferred as a way to utilize physical residuals, consider a backup “Plan B” as a contribution to a body of knowledge.