Last week, we lost a close family member to lung cancer that had been diagnosed only two months earlier. Doctors had determined the tumor was inoperable and had given him only six to twelve months to live, and they told him that while chemotherapy might lengthen his life by three months, his fragile medical condition made it too risky to consider. Sadly, on February 12, 2011, his short-lived but courageous battle with cancer ended when he passed away in his sleep.
After his cancer diagnosis, this retired and divorced father of three adult children began to prepare for what lay ahead of him. Aided by hospice workers, one item included in these preparations involved the preparation and signing of a living will. He was not a well-to-do man, nor was he one who measured his wealth in dollars and cents. Instead, he considered his family and friends to be his most valuable possessions. Because he had very little savings and no life insurance, he was surely concerned about funeral expenses that would be borne by his family. And it was out of this concern that he included in the living will a designation that his body be donated to medical research.
This was our family's first experience with body donation, and although grief clouded our thought processes, we have all learned from it. Surprisingly, the organization handling the donation of his body was not a university medical school - it was a group known as Genesis. According to its website, Genesis, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is a "willed body donor program for those persons wishing to donate their bodies for the advancement of science" and works in concert with the organization's Medical Education and Research Institute (MERI.) Not only does Genesis arrange and pay for transportation of the body to the Memphis facility, the organization issues six death certificates at no cost to the next of kin. In addition, the agreement with Genesis includes cremation of the body after it has been at MERI for a period of six to twelve months, with Genesis arranging for and paying the cost of cremation services.
At the time the agreement between the deceased and Genesis was signed, the donor specified in writing who should receive the cremains. Genesis and its staff ensure the request of the donor is honored and delivers the ashes to the person or place specified in the written agreement. If no one is specified to receive the ashes, Genesis has access to a columbarium in Memphis, and the cremains are interred there. In our family's case, a social worker employed by Genesis made direct contact with the family and expressed sympathy for their loss. In addition, the contact thoughtfully explained the entire process that follows the donation.
As most people know, the cost of a funeral is often more than the costs related to giving birth. Although donating one's body to medical research is a serious decision and one that should be carefully contemplated, in today's difficult economic times, it may be something to think about.