Much like picking a car, house or partner, the choice of donating your body to science can be both daunting and rewarding in equal measure. A topic too morbid for some, the truth about body donation is that it has more to do with the life than death. Moreover, it will probably surprise many of you to learn that there are actually a number of options when it comes to deciding how and when to give it all away.
Do you want to give up your body for the benefit of others, stay in one piece and indeed live to reap the mountains of positive karma (and potentially the cash) that your selfless actions are sure to generate? There’s an option for you. Are you a person who sees your organs as good books that should be passed on when you are done with them? No problem – you’re covered. Have you ever wanted to be a professor but never quite got around to finishing your PhD? Do you like the idea of giving new medical students nightmares years after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil? With body donation, all of this (and much more!) is possible. Here are 3 different ways you can go about it.
1) Short-Term Research: Body Donation Lite
If you like staying permanently intact both in this life and the next, then this entry-level body donation option is probably the one for you. The scientific community is constantly in need of volunteers for a wide variety of experiments. Choices range from the totally non-invasive (such as sleep pattern analysis studies) to the downright interesting (psychologists are always looking for volunteers to take part in simple, often enlightening exams and group participation studies). Depending upon what interests you, these tests and experiments can often be completed in just a couple of hours. So if you have a Sunday with no plans and you want to do something positive with your day, you can give up your body to science and get it back in time for supper.
Of course, for the more adventurous, open-minded donators out there, there are a series of other, more in-depth, long-term experiments available. These often take the form of drug trials, a spooky term that comes with a lot of urban myth-related baggage. While these bogyman stories will put off many (and indeed, on incredibly rare occasions things can go wrong), the truth is that such tests are both incredibly safe and highly regulated. Furthermore, these experiments can offer the most benefit to your fellow human: think of how it would feel to take part in a study that led directly to finding a cure for cancer, for example. This is the potential of what such studies can do. And the fact that they pay well doesn’t hurt either!
2) The Great Life-saving Giveaway: Organ Donation
If you’ve ever given away clothes to a charity store or posted an old sofa in the ‘free’ section on craigslist because it just didn’t feel right throwing them away, then you’re already familiar, in a vague way, with the psychological benefits of donating something close to you. (Albeit, not part of your body, but I digress.) If you’ve got something that someone else can use, and if it’s not something you can realistically sell, giving it away is the kindest and most sensible option available. If this is true when it comes to second-hand clothing and wine-stained furniture, it is all the more true when it comes to the gift of life. That is what organ donation is, after all; the gift of life.
What gift could be greater? To give breath to those who struggle to breathe. To give sight to those who cannot see. To give a heart to those whose heart can’t go on. These are gifts that aren’t just life changing, they’re life defining. And what is the penalty for the prospective organ donors out there? You have to pick up an organ donor card and put it in your wallet. That’s it – that’s all it takes. Just pick up a card and stick it some place deep in the nether regions of your wallet. If you have space for the business card of that plumber you’re realistically never going to call, you have space for an organ donor card. Tuck it in there (a doctor will find it) and never think about it again.
Naysayers will claim that donating organs makes an already difficult period (your untimely demise) all the more difficult for your family. While it would be wrong to speak for all situations, a general rule of thumb in cases of organ donation is that families tend to be optimistic and empowered knowing that the last act of their loved one was to give life to others. In any case, this is a potential road-bump that can be avoided with an honest, open talk with your family. If they know that organ donation is what you want, they will respect your choice.
Yes, it might be a little awkward, but think of all the awkward conversations you’ve had with your family so far. You’ve more than likely experienced some manner of the hideous ‘birds and bees’ conversation; you might’ve spoken about alcohol and drugs, girls and boys, college and marriage… the list goes on. Whether you’re a parent or a child, you know that having these conversations, from either side, is awkward, to say the least! If you can live through these experiences, talking about organ donation will be a trifle.
3) Going The Whole Hog: Full Body Donation
This is the big one. The home run. The Beethoven’s 5th of organ donation. What we’re talking about here is donating your entire body, head to toe, to the scientific community. In practice, for your body this often means ending up with a front seat to anatomy class in med school for the next decade or so. You will be chopped, poked, prodded, opened, closed, cut, sliced, sawed, and more. You will make first year med students turn white. You will sort out the lead-belied surgeons from the more squeamish family doctors.
Much more importantly than all that though, you will train the next generation of medical professionals to save countless lives. There is no other way to train doctors and surgeons on the intricacies of the human body as well as this. A text book and a slide show can only go so far; at some point it becomes necessary to touch and feel and poke parts of the human body in ways that living bodies would not be very fond of. For that, they need donated bodies. This is where you come in.
It’s certainly not an option for those who prioritize their self-image (if you donate your body in this way you’re going to end up in multiple pieces in multiple freezers), but for those who love education and believe in the greater good, total body donation can be a hugely rewarding choice.
With organ donation, you play a huge part in saving the lives of a handful of people. With full body donation, you play a small part in saving the lives of countless thousands. You’re the unseen hero, the little cog deep at the heart of a great engine. The people you save won’t know who you were. In fact, they won’t even realize you’ve helped to save their lives– they won’t think about you at all. BUT– you will have played your part, silently, in helping them and so many others. What’s more, universities will often pay good money for your excess baggage.
It’s worth keeping in mind, of course, that this pay-out typically only comes when they receive your body, so it’s really just a plus for your loved ones. Still, if you like to squeeze every penny and don’t like the idea of your family paying hand over fist for a funeral you don’t even get to see in person, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Act now, Save Later
Whether it’s having your sleeping patterns recorded in a weekend study, picking up an organ donor card or signing yourself up for a decade of anatomy classes that won’t teach you anything, donating your body in some way, shape or form is a realistic, achievable goal that will help and improve the lives of those around you.
It won’t cost you anything that you have any need for (indeed, it could actually make you or your loved some serious money, depending on your choice). With your organ donor card in hand you could go to sleep at night knowing that no matter what you do in life, some day, probably (hopefully!) many years from now, you will become a hero to someone who desperately needs your help. You can become a stranger’s personal superman without ever leaving your couch.
If you’ve signed your body over for scientific research, you know that you will play a key role in educating the doctors and surgeons that will serve your community – perhaps even your own family – for decades to come. It’s the gift of life, and you can give it to somebody for free. No matter your choice, what could be better than that?