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what do you want done with your body?

You know me by now, this is not some morbid obsession. As I continue to investigate the matter of death and dying, the topic of dead bodies (corpses, cadavers) has come up. Do I want my body to be cremated or buried. If buried, where and how. If cremated, where shall the ashes go: cast off the back of the ferry, in the woods, in the backyard, or in an urn to sit one someone’s bookshelf? And you, have you decided, made arrangements, and told someone to ensure your wishes are followed?

For some time now I’ve had a vague notion that my remains be cremated and ashes sent to the monastery. There’s mention of this in my Will but the reading of that document may be delayed. Consent needs to be available immediately after death, especially, as is my case, when there’s no immediate family to look after things.

I’m already registered as an organ/tissue donor so that health care providers can access a confidential data bank for my consent. Eyes need to be harvested within hours of death, other parts soon after that. But what of the rest? A nurse friend reminded me that medical schools use cadavers for anatomical study and medical research. Regulations differ from place to place — where I live the University of British Columbia will take the remains of anyone over 30 years of age, with some restrictions to do with infectious diseases, extreme trauma, and suicide. Bodies have to be intact with no major organs removed except for corneal transplants.

I now have to find a way to restrict my organ donation to “eyes only” and sign a separate consent form with the university. This way every part will find a use in the education of future nurses, dentists, physicians, and scientists. Perhaps a skeleton made of my bones will some day hang in someone’s closet. Unused bit and pieces will eventually (six months to three years after receipt) be cremated “with dignity and respect” and ashes returned to the estate.

All this feels right as my vow “to be of service” will accrue benefits after I’m dead. In the meanwhile, may this brief essay nudge you to become informed and communicate your wishes to others. Regulations differ regionally and in accordance with religious and cultural customs. To register for organ donation, go to; to learn about the body donor program to www.cellphy.ubc/bodyprogram.html.



2 responses »

  1. Even if not popular with the conventional crew, I am so glad you’re raising these important issues. My grandparents donated their bodies to Yale Medical School. I hadn’t thought about restricting organ donation to eyes only, but I’m young so – transplant may have more of an impact than research. Will have to think about it.

    Good to remember the adage, even when we’re talking about “our” bodies: “waste not, want not”.

    • Yes, think about it — then act. You can always change the donation instructions. Good point about “our” bodies: the moment we die, whose is it? Right now it’s “mine.”

      Thank you for writing.
      With palms together,


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