By Andrew Rock

Many people making end-of-life arrangements consider donating their body to science. It is an option often lauded as practical and useful to society. However, those seeking to do so may face more obstacles than one would expect, according to a family of a recently deceased donor.

Ralph Ward had always wanted to donate his body to medical science. “[He] felt that training a new doctor would be a gift to society,” explained his son Paul. At the age of 93, he fell ill and entered hospice care. However, when his son and daughter-in-law sought to arrange a donation, they were met with some resistance. They contacted numerous medical schools, such as the University of Southern California and Loma Linda University, before eventually finding one that would accept Mr. Ward’s body.

According to Sheldon Kurtz, a professor of health law at the University of Iowa, schools “tend to be a little picky.” For example, one factor that affects schools’ decisions to accept bodies (and was a key issue in Mr. Ward’s case) is distance; many places refuse donations that are not within 70 to 100 miles of the school. Another factor is donor consent documentation; because Mr. Ward was not considered to be of sound mind when he fell ill, he was deemed unfit to consent to a post-mortem donation. Other considerations include Body Mass Index and disease status.

Dr. Richard Drake of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine explains that the use of human cadavers is “still one of the best ways to learn anatomy.” In fact, they are also used to train students in other health science professions, such as dentistry and physical therapy.

Because organs are in such high demand, many overlook the option of donating a body for such purposes. However, if one wishes to do so with ease, his or her best option is to get documentation of consent while he or she is still capable of participating in the process.

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