Guest Post: When you can’t be an organ donor…

…consider the Anatomical Gift Act a/k/a Donate your Body for Scientific Studies

I am much honored to share this post from Ursula Reeg, Donate Life Group.  I met Ursula via LinkedIn.  She is amazing at keeping up with organ donation issues and posts information prolifically.  She mentioned to me about writing about the gift of donating your body to science.  Then she told me she has a personal experience with such a donation.  She agreed to share that story here.  Thank you Ursula!


When my mother’s oncologist told her that her cancer spread from her breast into her liver on November 14, 2011, and that the chemo therapy was no longer an option, we prepared for the final stages of her life.  Aside from the will, paperwork, telephone contacts, and other items that we looked at, there was one more important item: Organ Donation. Due to her cancer, organ donation was not an option any longer.

We looked at another possibility: Donate her body to science. Why not?

I googled the internet and came up with “The Anatomical Gift Act” and contacted the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS).  The first thing that struck me was the heading:

“‘The Ultimate Gift’ – In depth study of the human body is a very important part of medical education that is possible because conscientious people donate their bodies for medical education. Countless individuals enjoy fullness of health in part through their well educated physicians.”

How much better can it get, I thought and my mother agreed.

With the years of chemo therapy, the pain and spread of breast cancer that my mother endured, she didn’t wish the same for anyone else and agreed to go this route. We contacted the program director, received the paperwork that needed to be filled out, asked the questions as to how this was going to work and all was in place. There are stipulations in becoming a donor that includes:

  • No MRSA, ‘c’ diff, AIDS, active TB, extreme obesity, mutilation, decomposition, unhealed surgery, embalming or autopsy
  • The next of kin will pay for ‘modest transportation costs ($385 in my mother’s case) to deliver my body to the medical school

On April 20, 2012, my mother did pass away at Cousack’s Care Center under the help of Compassionate Care Hospice and I called UMDNJ-RWJMS Anatomical Association immediately (as was their directive).

Her journey will take from 2 weeks to 2 years, depending on the amount of studying and research that can be helpful to the doctors and interns and students. From that point her body will be cremated and I will be notified and her remains will be sent to me.

In the memorial service at the Assisted Living Home where she resided, I said:

“It was my mother’s wish that her body is donated to UMDNJ-RWJMS Anatomical Association in hopes that it will improve other lives in the future.” 

Many residents came to me saying they thought her wish was very noble and they didn’t know of this institution. In fact, it was a first for the hospice facility where my mother passed away. Perhaps some of the residents will make the same decision and help future generations lead better and healthier lives.

As for me, I’m glad that I fulfilled one of my mother’s wishes and although many consider her wish a noble one, it really isn’t so. It’s very necessary in the realms of human kindness.

Consider the alternatives of donating a body to science and advancing the health of future generations or burying a body that will decompose, placed in a cemetery with a cold headstone. Since the body turns to ashes ultimately, why not utilize that body to enhance the lives of others? My mother felt that giving after her death was the most generous gift to humanity.

Here are some helpful links:


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: When you can’t be an organ donor…

  1. Thank you Wendy…. I was amazed how many locations there are. Must be that people are just as interested in donating organs as they are in donating their entire body to help interns/scientists and doctors discover and cure the ails of humanity.

  2. Just attended Memorial Service at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School last week to honor donors and their family members. It was amazing and exceptionally well done. Medical Interns showed their gratitude and appreciation to family members in moving service. More on this experience shortly.

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