When to choose organ donation
When a loved one dies or is about to die, the thought of donating their organs may come to mind. Many people make the decision beforehand if they would like to be an organ donor or not, and these wishes should be carried out. If the death is unexpected, then chances are your loved one has not made this decision. Organ donation is a very personal decision and is not right for everyone. It can be very difficult to think about this during the grieving process; there are many factors to consider.
Is your loved one eligible for organ donation?
The first consideration is whether or not your loved one is eligible to be an organ donor. There are no age limits. This means even the most elderly people may still be organ donor candidates. Age does not necessarily have an effect on every internal organ. Someone under the age of eighteen needs parental consent in order to be an organ donor. If your loved one is HIV positive, has active cancer, or a systematic infection then they will be unable to be an organ donor. Not all illnesses rule out organ donation and a physician will check specific organs if a prior illness may have affected them.
Which organs can be donated?
The bereaved also have the ability to choose what to donate. Organ donation is limited to the heart, lungs, pancreas, kidneys, liver, and intestines. These organs must be removed shortly after the person has died, making it crucial to make the decision prior to the death. Organ transplants must be performed within hours of procurement. Adults between the ages of eighteen and sixty have the ability to donate stem cells. The bereaved can also choose to donate the tissue of the deceased loved one. This includes corneas, skin, heart valves, middle ear, cartilage, tendons, bone, veins, and ligaments. These can be stored and used to treat victims of accidents at a much later date. The bereaved family can also choose to donate blood and plasma from the deceased.
Organ donation can provide some sense of comfort
Grieving for a loved one is never easy. Choosing to have your deceased loved one become an organ donor may relieve some of the pain of your loss. Knowing that, even in death, they have helped someone else to live is a powerful healing tool. The person who receives your loved one's organs will have the opportunity to live a life that would have otherwise ended too soon. Organ donation will save another family from their own grieving. Of course, this will not remove the grief of losing a loved one, but it will provide some sense of comfort at giving another person a chance at life.
Poet Robert Test says it all brilliantly:
To Remember Me
At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.
When that happens, do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don't call this my "deathbed." Call it my "bed of life," and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.
Give my sight to a man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby's face or love in the eyes of a woman.
Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.
Give my blood to a teenager who has been pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play.
Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.
Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body, and find a way to make a crippled child walk.
Explore every corner of my brain. Take my cells, if necessary, and let them grow so that someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her windows.
Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow.
If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses, and all my prejudice against my fellow man.
Give my sins to the devil. Give my soul to God. If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Practical matters following a death section helpful too.
Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you through bereavement.