I would estimate at least once every week I have a client ask me in-depth questions about organ donation. For purposes of full disclosure, I’m one of those who has to sit down, grab some ice, and look the other way when I see a drop of blood [being a bit dramatic here, but you get the point]! That said, I am a registered organ donor, and I thoroughly enjoy these conversations on an area which is very personal to each individual, and often deemed somewhat mysterious.
As an estate planner, I routinely draft living wills and health care powers of attorney for clients. This is a two part document. The living will, if the client chooses to have one, provides that if the client is terminally ill and permanently unconscious, the client desires life support be removed (or as my overt clients lovingly refer to as “pull the plug”). The health care power of attorney is also effective when the client is living, but perhaps of unsound mind or otherwise unable to make healthcare decisions (e.g. whether to have an elective or emergency procedure; which assisted living or nursing home to live in; etc.). It is important to note both the living will and health care power of attorney terminate once a person dies. Thereafter lies a small window of time for which many people fail to plan: Will you have a funeral service? If so, to what extent and will there be a viewing of the body? Will your body be buried or cremated? Will you donate your tissue or organs? If so, do you want to put parameters on your donation?
Unless you have an enforceable plan in place, the answers to these difficult questions fall upon your loved ones during a very emotional and trying time. For this reason, I raise these questions with my estate planning clients, and provide them a short document called a “Declaration of Designee for Final disposition.” This document allows the client to designate a decision-maker to answer questions during this short window of time, and further allows the client to provide their point person additional instruction and information regarding ceremonies to be performed (or not) after death, burial, cremation, and organ donation. In preparing to write this article, I contacted the Iowa Donor Network and was astounded to learn only 1% of Iowans have this Final Declaration!
This document alone, however, may not be enough to carry out one’s final wishes. As such, it is best practice to provide a copy of the signed document to your family physician, loved ones, and, if you want to donate organs or tissue, register as an organ donor through the Department of Motor Vehicles or your state organ donor registry available online. If you are considering whether to become a registered organ donor, following are some useful facts I obtained from the Iowa Donor Network:
- If a person donates organs, the body may remain on life support for 36-48 hours for the organ donation process and placement to occur, and the family is not charged for the hospital stay (which is where the organ donation occurs) or any other related expense from the time the consent to donate is signed.
- Currently 73% of Iowans over the age of 18 are registered organ donors. 58% of Americans nationwide are donors.
- One donor can save the lives of eight people and enhance the lives of hundreds through eye and tissue.
- One of the oldest tissue donors in Iowa was age 105. Tissue and skin, even from the very elderly, can help burn victims and enhance the lives of others.
- There are currently 597 Iowans waiting for an organ transplant.
Organ donation, funeral services, burial, cremation, and related sensitive topics such as these are a personal choice which should be left to each individual. Not only does proper planning help ensure your wishes are followed, but it takes some relief off of your loved ones during an emotional time in their lives.
The information contained above is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely upon this information.