What if my Plan A–whole body donation–is scrubbed?

    “Go directly to Plan B—find the cheapest cremation!”   

Last month I discussed my 2009 decision to donate my body to www.medcure.org when I was a five-year breast cancer survivor. Since my type of cancer, lobular invasive, often shows up in the other (contralateral) breast, I was obsessed about a recurrence, which could lead to metastatic cancer– catch my drift? Reliving the horror of my modified radical mastectomy, chemo and radiation, threw me into a year of medical research. My oncologist and surgeon agreed with the ten reasons I discovered to justify a prophylactic mastectomy. The surgeon said, “I’ll give you a 100% guarantee that you’ll never have breast cancer on your right side.” By God’s grace, fabulous medical care, and healthy living I’m still alive. Will medical researchers still want my mutilated body when I die?

The devil is in the details: New Jersey and Minnesota do not allow donor bodies to leave their state. Here, in no particular order, are possible grounds for refusal:

  • Diagnosis of active, communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C, or Tuberculosis MRSA, C-Diff
  • History of incarceration or institutionalization
  • Body has been autopsied
  • History of intravenous (IV) drug use
  • Multiple orthopedic surgeries
  • Decomposition, trauma—i.e., violent death (manslaughter or vehicular accident)
  • Your weight at the time of death – Ask for their guidelines: do they use weight or Body Mass Index (BMI)? Check your BMI here:


Does your family know you plan to donate your body? You need to talk it over with each person, so that when you die, nobody sabotages your donation intent. Since your survivors sign the final donation papers, if anyone is against it, the company probably will not take your donation. Be proactive. Make a list of companies/medical schools in your area. Request their written application and donation rules. While your medical history is most important, ask:

  • Are there upper age limits?
  • Are there diseases that would exclude you?
  • Do they have a guaranteed body donation acceptance screening for Hospice?
  • Geographic coverage: is it confined to a few states or do they have national coverage? You want assurance that no matter where you are when you die; they will assume all of the charges for transporting your body to their facility. Stay out of New Jersey and Minnesota—their hands are tied!
  • Are there any charges to the family? You want to be aware of any hidden costs, even if it’s for copies of medical documents.

I found this news article, posted Jan 9, 2012, which gives more insights into the donation arena:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/09/10016083-donating-your-body-to-science-nobody-wants-a-chubby-corpse?lite   People who are overweight through a genetic disorder could still be considered for companies are researching obesity issues.

Here’s my Plan B

I joined the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maryland and Environs, www.mdfunerals.org so if I die in Bethesda, my cremation would cost $650, according to the 2010 survey conducted by their volunteers. http://www.mdfunerals.org/newsletters/Price_Survey_rev_08192010.pdf Review the costs in Maryland—are you shocked to see the $5750 difference ($650 to $6400) between the lowest and highest priced Direct Cremations? By contrast, prices in Oregon ranged from $460 to $2940:http://fcaoregon.org/fceforegon.org/Price%20Surveys/Price%20Survey%20PDX%202013.pdf   Want to see what volunteer members are doing in your state? www.funerals.org/affiliates-directory

Who has an extra $10,000 (funeral + cemetery costs) to help fuel the $6 billion funeral industry coffers? Sara Marsden introduces us to a new term: Funeral Poverty. http://www.us-funerals.com/funeral-articles/funeral-poverty-in-the-21st-century.html#.VNuGcy7uaX As you talk about and start to write YOUR Exit Strategy, isn’t it obvious your family needs to know how you intend to cover these costs? Click on the links in the right margin of the Funeral Poverty article to see DSF Memorial’s cremation prices in your state.

In some urban areas, medical schools are over-supplied and will only accept bodies if prior arrangements were made for the gift. Fortunately, bodies can be stored for a limited time and transported to rural areas where they are needed. Ask their conditions for accepting a body,   transportation and cremation costs. While institutions are forbidden to pay for bodies, they may reimburse the family for the cost of transporting the body, and you may pay for the cremains.

Logically, the next discussion is “What do we do with the cremains when they are returned to us?” I wrote my children a detailed plan: Rent “this” cottage in Manzanita, Oregon; order sumptuous food and champagne (sparkling cider for the grandchildren), tell stories about our adventures, and then scatter my ashes on the beach. Today I learned about a neat company in Barcelona, www.urnabios.com that has developed a method of combining your loved one’s ashes, with the seed of a tree, into a biodegradable canister, and the ashes help the seed grow into a tree. I like this idea, how about you? Now, if I want to change my mind (a woman’s prerogative—right?) the next question would be: ‘Where to plant me/the tree?’

One thought on “What if my Plan A–whole body donation–is scrubbed?

  1. Patricia Epperly

    Oregon loves trees. Since Daughter, Diane and hubby just bought 40 acres on a hill top maybe they would let them plant it there. They don’t plan on moving, building their home this summer. Beautiful view of the coast range. They would probably want to give the ok on the kind of tree.

    A gentleman here had donated his body to OHSU up in Portland. They cremate afterwards and send ashes to the address of your choice.

    Guess I need to get busy and write my requests, etc. They can put them every place Harry’s are if they want, but they might not want to go to Japan.


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