Sunday, Sep 28, 2003: “Series on Death and Dying: #3”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary

“Series on Death and Dying: #3”

Coordinated and Led by Rev. Deacon George Snyder

Sunday, September 28, 2003


George began discussion by giving the group an overview of what is involved with those who decide to donate their entire bodies to science, such as to a medical school, etc. Wright State’s School of Medicine has such a program where a person’s body made be donated and used for scientific research and/or student training. In these instances there is no involvement from morticians at all. The university will take the body after death and embalm it in preparation for dissection. The body needs to be complete. In the case where a government agency would request an autopsy, Wright State will take care of having the body cremated. If a family member requests an autopsy, the body will be rejected. The average time period until cremation after a body is accepted is nine months, although this can vary depending upon circumstances. Some of St. Mark’s parishioners have already signed up for this program. If a person dies out of state, Wright State can make arrangements for another medical school to do the embalming. It was also noted that typically the bodies are handled with great care and dignity. The students and researchers are reminded that this was once a living human being and as such should be treated with respect. Many body parts are useful for transplants such as bones and tendons. People may also designate specific organs to be donated to science, such as the pancreas. There is also the thought of organ donation as part of stewardship. Just in the United States alone, there are over 82,000 people waiting for transplants, of which 55,000 are for kidneys. Black markets have sprung up around the world in which people are paid to donate body parts and organs. If everyone who was eligible participated in organ donation, there would be more than enough for those in need. Bodies may still prove useful to donate even if the person had chemotherapy. For example, the skin can still be used for skin grafts and research may be done on the cancer itself.

Discussion then turned to organ transplants. Those body organs that are oxygenated must be kept with a fresh supply of oxygen within ten minutes of death. Otherwise, the organ is rejected. Those organs, such as corneas, which receive their oxygen from the surrounding air, can still be used up to four hours after death with no special treatment.

In regards to burial, sometimes it is not possible to bury a corpse right away. In particular, in northern climates where the ground may remain frozen for a good portion of the year it may be necessary to keep the body in storage for months before burial.

The question was raised as to why are some people reluctant to donate body parts or organs. Perhaps it may be due to apathy or disgust, or the fact that many people are squeamish talking about this type of subject matter, or to talk about death in general. This seems to be especially true of young people. Some religions also believe that the physical body must be whole and complete when a person dies and do not even allow cremation.

It was noted that transplants are very expensive and doctor bills can be very high. A large portion of the costs is not necessarily from the operation itself, but from the emergency room care and medications needed afterwards. Also, the costs to remove, prepare, and transport the organ can be significant. Other related areas where science is making progress includes stem cell research, growing of artificial organs, and cryogenic freezing of body parts.