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Til death do us part…

Other than the grief of those we leave behind, have you ever thought about what you want to happen to your body when you die?

I mean, you ain’t gonna need it anymore.

Should the situation arise, I am a registered organ donor. That’s important to me, what more precious gift could you give?

But what about the rest of me, or if that situation doesn’t/can’t arise?

I’ve recently been reading Stiff by Mary Roach, and it’s got me ‘ole noodle thinkin’.

Roach takes a candid look at death, covering body snatchers, postmortems, forensic pathology, donating your body to science, and the future of burial. It really is a good read…if you can stomach it!

I found her investigation into what happens when you donate your body to science quite intriguing. Say, for whatever reason, my organs aren’t viable to be given to someone who needs them, I could still go on to help further medical research and therefore still help future generations.

The Pros

At present, the pros for donating my body to science are:

  1. Furthering medical research
  2. Reducing funeral costs

The first one, being the main driving force, the second, more of an off-shoot than an actual pro.

Admittedly, I’ve not come up with many pros, but what about the cons?

The Cons

Fisrtly, family. I don’t mean ‘family’ is a con, just that they might have a hard time accepting and agreeing to the donation. Life is for the living afterall, they will be the ones who live with your decision and therefore their views are important – well, they are to me anyway. And there’s a lot to be said for a proper ‘send-off’. By donating your body to science, you’re family may feel cheated of that opportunity.

At any rate, there’s no guarantee that your body will be accepted for donation. The receiving organisation will have their requirements – to which, by the time you’re done with it, you might not meet their criteria. This isn’t necessarily a con, more food for thought.

As I continued reading Roaches investigation, she highlighted some cases in which donated bodies are used – all be it very respectfully.

One such use was as crash test dummies. A research facility was authorised to use whole cadavers to carry out impact testing in simulated car crashes. The person was seated as any normal driver would have been and then vehicle was launched at a wall. Roach put it more delicately and respectfully but essentially that’s what happened.

Other cadavers were used in forensic science research, bodied are buried at various depths and the rate of decay etc is monitored. The analysis helps pathologists figure out how long ago someone had died, for example, in a murder investigation.

There are more uses for a body, parts can be chopped off and sent to different departments. Roach follows a group of surgeons who are practicing their rhinoplasty technique on severed heads, while others may practice suturing, or organ removal.

When you sign up to donate your body, however, you have no control over how it is subsequently used…a family are rarely told (according to Roach).

What about the alternatives?

Roach also talks about the future of burials and the pursuit of more environmentally friendly alternatives. In 2016, in the UK, 75% of people were cremated – according to the Cremation Society of Great Britain.

In future though, you could be turned into fertiliser through freeze-drying then broken-down using ultrasound, or you could opt for plastination – where you’re essentially turned into a wax-work for all eternity.

In all honesty, I’m still not sure where all this leaves me, I am still adamant that my organs be used to provide life-saving transplants.

Beyond that, however, I thought perhaps writing about it might help clarify my thoughts on the matter, that somehow I’d be swayed one way or the other to donate my body to science. It hasn’t.

If you’re of the mind to, let me know your thoughts? Maybe you could help clarify my own!

If you’re interested in making a donation, the best piece of advice I found in my research on the web was this:

“‘How do you sign up?

It’s best to make arrangements before you die.

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