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Donating your body or organs when you die: A primer

A lot of people like the idea of donating their organs to help other people in need have a better life. They also like the idea of donating their body to science, in order to further scientific or medical research in any number of ways.

However, that's a topic that can be hard for your loved ones to handle right at the moment of your death. Unfortunately, the necessary procedures all have to be done within a very limited amount of time. That doesn't give your family members much of a chance to think over how they feel or consider what you might have wanted.

If you're interested in making an anatomical gift from your body after you're gone, that's something that you should plan for and put into writing. Also, make your next of kin or the person with your medical power of attorney aware of the plans—that way, you know things will be handled the way that you desire.

What sort of anatomical gifts can be made?

A lot depends on the nature of your death. If, for example, you die of cancer, you may not be able to donate anything other than your corneas to a living person. However, your entire body could be donated to something like a medical school, which would allow further research to be done on the cancer or allow a young surgeon-in-training to hone his or her operating skills.

If you die from something like an accident, you may be able to donate your eyes to the blind, your organs to people on transplant lists, your skin to burn victims and even parts of your bone to people in need of bone grafts.

Who can make an anatomical gift?

In Pennsylvania, anyone of sound mind over the age of 18 can give any part of his or her body or the whole body as an anatomical gift. Minors 16 and older can do so with parental or guardian consent.

It's important to note that adult children who are not the children of your surviving spouse can block whole-body donation.

How can your attorney help?

An attorney can put your specific wishes in writing into your will and your health care power of attorney documents. That will help clarify your wishes for anybody who questions the decision to make a donation.

For more assistance with estate planning, please visit our site.

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

Larmore Scarlett, LLP
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