Have a Plan B for Body Donation

Jul 28, 2014 | 1 comment

Over the weekend, the local NBC-TV news affiliate ran a story about Chuck Pagliarulo, a man whose dying wish to donate his body to science was denied. It reinforces the importance of having a “Plan B” if your first plan is to donate to a medical school.

After receiving his diagnosis last year, Chuck had planned to donate his cancer-ridden body to the University of New Mexico Medical School for students to study. Both he and his wife Terese signed up months ago with UNM’s Anatomical Donation Program to donate their bodies after death. With the challenges of facing cancer, it was one of the few things Chuck was excited about.

But by the time he died on July 7, the Anatomical Donation Program was at capacity. UNM had suspended taking bodies, a risk that is printed on the back of donor’s cards. The fine print warns that their donation may not be accepted due to lack of space or funding.

Old painting with med studentsOne of the great things about med school anatomical donation programs is that they cover the costs to pick up the body for students to study, the remains are cremated and eventually returned or memorialized, all at no cost to the donor’s family.

The suspension posed a financial challenge to Terese, who after paying Chuck’s medical bills couldn’t afford the cost of a funeral or cremation. Terese has decided to withdraw from the body donation program.

UNM Health Sciences spokesperson John Arnold said they don’t have to shut down the program often, but this year there was an unusual surge in donors and they are at capacity with 65 bodies.  The program will start accepting body donations again in August.

So what Plan B can you put in place in case of just this type of situation? There are national services such as MedCure.org and other services which can use bodies for surgical training and other medical purposes. They will pick up the body and cover costs for transportation, refrigeration, cremation and returning the remains in an urn, all at no cost to the family.

But, as with arranging for anatomical donation to a medical school, you need to make arrangements with these services before there’s a death in the family. And they also have restrictions, as does the medical school, that can be cause for rejecting the body donation. These include diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C, history of illegal drug use, incarceration or institutionalization and being severely over or under weight at the time of death.

So, if your end-of-life plans include donating your body to science, make sure you have a Plan B in place in case the medical school has its fill of cadavers! You might even have a Plan C in place in case you don’t meet the requirements for the national services.

A Good Goodbye