We invited Tamara Ostervoss, Director of the Body Donation Program at Oregon Health & Science University, to provide more information about this method of final disposition and how it can be compatible with family and community-led after-death care.
Whole-body donation is an alternative to a traditional funeral and burial or cremation. Donating your body or your loved one’s body to a reputable body donation program supports medical education and research after death. Many people considering this option are unsure of how to plan or what the process may look like.
Donating one’s body is a personal decision and there are many different reasons for doing so. Not every body donation program is the same, has the same requirements, or provides the same options for the final disposition of a donor’s body afterward. That’s why it is important to find a program that best fits your personal beliefs and needs.
There are two different types of body donation programs, academic and private. Academic body donation programs are typically affiliated with a university, and are guided by their home university’s missions as well as their ethical requirements. Most academic programs are focused on the education of doctors or other health professionals as well as medical research within their geographical region. Private body donation programs determine their own mission, vision, values and are not associated with a university.
To determine which program is a good fit for your needs, it is important to consider asking the following questions of body donation programs:
OHSU’s Body Donation Program is the oldest in Oregon. Every year, the program’s donors support the education and training of approximately 300 OHSU medical, dental, physician assistant and radiation therapy students, as well as 200 OHSU residents and clinicians, and 2,000 students at other trusted Oregon academic institutions that follow OHSU’s strict medical and ethical standards. Students who learn through OHSU’s program are required to attend an orientation, understand their responsibilities when working with donors, and only learn from donors in approved lab spaces with restricted access. Donors who support our program will be a part of education at OHSU for 1-3 years before undergoing final disposition.
Students are honored to care for the donors who serve as their 'first patients.' Every year, our learners host a memorial service with donors’ loved ones where they reflect on how their donor’s decision impacted their education.
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