There are many ways that the gift of a loved one’s organ and tissue can benefit others, including through lifesaving or life changing transplants, the education of future medical practitioners and research that could lead to the future prevention of a disease. According to Australia’s Organ and Tissue Authority, one single person’s organ and tissue can transform the lives of 10 or more people.
If your loved one died in hospital, you may be asked for permission to donate their tissue and organs. This is can be a very personal decision, but there is information available to help you decide.
Donating organs and tissue for transplant
Although there are many reasons to donate organs, perhaps the greatest reason is the possibility of enhancing or even saving someone else’s life. According to the national donor scheme Donate Life around 1,200 Australians have their lives transformed or saved by donors and their families every year.
Many of these donations are possible because people have signed the organ donor register. By signing the register, you are recording your wish to donate organs and tissue after your death. You can even decide which organs and tissue you wish to donate.
After a death, the doctor will always confirm the decision to donate with the family of the person who died. This must be done before donation can proceed. This is why it is essential to discuss your wishes with your loved ones and in turn make sure you know their wishes.
What organs can be donated?
Organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestine and pancreas. Tissues that can be donated include heart valves, bone, tendons, ligaments, skin and parts of the eye. This means that one donor can help many different people with different medical problems.
Why organ donations may be rejected
As little as one or two per cent of patients who die in hospital will be eligible to donate their organs. This is because a person has to die in a very specific set of circumstances in order for the transplant to work.
The most common situation where a person can donate organs is after suffering from brain death, when the brain is irreparably damaged and will never recover. Medical tests can prove that brain death has occurred.If your loved one has not died in circumstances that allow organ donation, you may still be asked if their tissue can be donated.
When you donate your body to medical research or science, you will be aiding the development of future medical professionals and assisting those in the research of the human body and disease prevention.
Before death, if you intend to donate your body to medical science you should inform the institute of your consent and intention. Many universities and medical schools have their own body donation programme, which can be found by contacting the institution to which you wish to donate your body.
You should also discuss your decision with your family to ensure that they understand your wishes and will honour them after you die.
Be aware that medical school may decline your donation if your body has suffered from certain medical conditions. On some occasions, medical schools will even be unable to accept donations, as their demand can fluctuate throughout the year. Therefore, it is advisable to have alternative arrangements specified in a will or planned with a family member.
It is possible to donate your body to medical science as well as donating organs and tissue for transplant. However, some medical schools will not accept bodies if they have undergone surgery or organs have been removed. Be sure to read the eligibility criteria of the medical institution you wish to donate to.
Funeral arrangements for body donors
The university or research organisation will normally cover all (or most) of the funeral costs if you are happy to follow their typical arrangements. While the exact specifics will change between universities, below are some general factors to consider when it comes to body donation and funeral arrangements.
Following your death, your family are free to hold a memorial service (i.e. a funeral service where the body is not present).
Most organisations will let families choose between a simple burial or cremation, though cremation is generally the preferred disposal option for universities. Standard cremations can take place at the same crematorium with which the university has an arrangement with. If your family wishes to have the cremation elsewhere, this will usually be at your own cost. Most universities will also pay for the cost of a brief, non-denominational committal service at the time of the cremation.
Universities often arrange for burials to take place at a public burial ground. Public burial grounds are not available for visitation. This means that in addition to the fact that your family will not be able to visit your grave in the future, you will not be able to hold a graveside service or dual service. If you would like to have a grave that is open for visitation, you may purchase your own burial plot at your own cost. Similar to cremations, the university will often cover the cost of a simple non-denominational burial service at a chapel.
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