It might seem morbid to consider what will happen to your mortal remains after your death, but taking the time to think about the subject now can make things easier for your loved ones after the event – and it can even save a life.
Hospitals and medical schools all across the country are constantly in need of organs, tissues and bodies to help further their own knowledge and for transplants to replace body parts in a critically-ill or injured person. Thankfully, thousands of Britons sign up to the organ donor register every year, and in just a couple of minutes – the same it takes to brew a cup of tea – you can join them.
Signing the register now will make clear your wishes before it’s too late and can work wonders in furthering medical science, improving the quality of people’s lives and even saving them from death. Here’s how you can do it:
Who can sign the register?
Anyone can sign the organ donor register, including children. However, those under the age of 18 (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 16 (in Scotland) will require parental consent after death. There is no upper age limit for donors, though those above the age of 80 will not be able to donate their corneas and those above the age of 60 can’t donate tendons or heart valves. However, they will still be able to donate other vital body parts.
A pre-existing medical condition does not necessarily mean you cannot donate organs. At the time of death, a qualified medical practitioner will be able to determine which organs are and are not fit for donation purposes. The only exceptions to this are people who suffer from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or any form of cancer that has spread during the last year of life.
How can I sign the organ donor register?
These days, it’s incredibly easy for people to join the organ donor register and it can all be done online within a matter of minutes. In England and Wales, you should visit the NHS Organ Donation website and in Scotland, you should visit the Organ Donation Scotland website. On both, you can specify which organs you prefer to donate (choosing from heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, eyes, pancreas, small bowel and tissue), or whether you’re happy to donate all of them.
In Wales, things operate a little differently. Since December 2015, the country implemented a “soft” opt-out scheme; this means that rather than signing up to the register, everyone is automatically enrolled and must opt out if they’d prefer not to become a donor. This can be done at Organ Donation Wales. As a result, anyone over the age of 18 in Wales who dies without having specified their preferences will automatically be assumed to have no problem donating organs and tissue.
It’s important to remember to inform friends and family members of your decision to enrol in the organ donor register after signing up, as they will have no legal power to overturn your decision in the event of your death. For this reason, it’s a good idea to clarify the issue now to avoid shock or trauma at a later date.
How can I donate my body?
Donating your body to medical science is slightly more complicated than donating your organs or tissue, but it’s still a relatively straightforward process. Rather than signing up to a national register, you must directly contact a specific medical school and make arrangements with them. The Human Tissue Authority (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the Scottish Government (in Scotland) have a number of resources which can help you locate an appropriate medical school near you.
You must provide written consent prior to your death if you wish to donate your body – no one else can authorise the donation after your passing. This can be obtained from the medical school in question and a copy of the consent should be stored along with your will and other important documents. You should also inform your friends and family of the decision.
It’s advisable to make arrangements with a local school, as the transportation costs of your body will not be covered by those in more remote locations. However, it is possible to arrange such a donation if the transportation costs are going to be absorbed by your estate; if this is something you wish to pursue, it might be an idea to create a funeral plan now to avoid these costs inconveniencing your loved ones after your death.
Will there be a funeral afterwards?
With regards to organ and tissue donation, there is no effect on the body itself in terms of burial preparation. The body will be returned to the family in the same condition as if organ donation had not taken place, with medical practitioners showing the utmost care in removing organs and tissue. As with any medical procedure, all incisions are carefully closed and covered afterwards and the body is fully clothed, meaning organ donors can be displayed at open-casket funerals without any problems. There is also no delay to the burial process caused by organ donation.
When it comes to donating your body to medical science, most medical schools cremate the remains after use. If the family prefers the body to be returned to them for a private cremation or burial, this can also be arranged. Depending on the medical school in question, they may also undertake a short memorial service for the deceased, though it’s best to communicate directly with the organisation in question to learn their specific policy.