A Final Gift: Considering Organ or Body Donation

Have you considered what you want to happen to your body after your death? This is rarely a comfortable topic for individuals or families to consider, much less discuss, but it is important to make any special wishes known before your death to ensure they are carried out. Many people communicate their wishes in an Advance Directive document. Others may have informal conversations with family members, but if there is any risk of disagreements among loved ones after your death, this strategy may not be wise. Speaking with an attorney about your options and recording them in official documents will ensure your wishes are met and reduce stress among your loved ones during the difficult time following your death.

The Tennessee Advance Directive form has a short organ donation section with four options for anatomical gifts:  donating any organ/tissue, the entire body, only specific organs/tissues listed by the person, or making no organ/tissue donation. When completing this form, many people of advanced age or who have significant medical diagnoses opt not to donate – not because they are philosophically against organ donation, but because they believe their age or diagnoses make their organs useless for the purpose of transplants. For those who want to make an anatomical gift but who are in this situation, whole body donation may be an acceptable alternative.

Many medical departments of universities and research centers accept anatomical gifts for use by students and researchers to better understand the human body. Locally, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Medicine and the Forensic Anthropology Center are two options for whole body donation. Conditions such as age and illness that may render organs unusable for transplants do not prevent the entire body from being useful for medical or forensic study. There may be other limitations to consider, such as being unable to both donate organs and donate the body for medical study, but for some who cannot donate their organs to directly save lives, this is a way to make a final gesture of generosity and help save lives through the advancement of science.  You can learn more about the ins and outs of whole body donation by reading these FAQ pages:

UT Health Science Center, College of Medicine, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology

UT Forensic Anthropology Center

Organ or body donation is not for everyone, but if you are considering one of these options or need to find a way to communicate your decisions in more detail than the Advance Directive form allows, talk with your attorney about how to record your wishes in the best way possible to ensure that they are respected after you are gone. Your attorney can also offer you advice about opening these and other delicate end-of-life conversations with your loved ones to reduce family uncertainty, conflict, and stress when the time comes.