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Anatomical Gifts

LEGAL ASPECTS OF ANATOMICAL GIFTS

An anatomical gift is a donation of organs and tissues for various purposes. Advancements in medicine have now made it possible to transplant more than 25 different human organs and tissues, including corneas, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, pancreas, bone and skin. Donations may also be used for research related to diseases, disabilities and injuries.

As the success rate of transplants continues to increase, more anatomical gifts are needed. The demand for organs and tissues far exceeds the number of those available. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act was enacted in 1968 for the purpose of establishing comprehensive and uniform laws among the various states regarding organ and tissue donations. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now adopted some form of the act with minor variations.

WHO MAY EXECUTE AN ANATOMICAL GIFT?

Any individual of sound mind who is at least 18 years of age may execute a document authorizing an anatomical gift of their own organs or tissues. With consent of a parent or legal guardian, a minor may also make a gift. Neither age nor medical history should affect or discourage the execution of an anatomical gift. Some donations have no age restrictions, since a body of any age can be valuable for research.

The execution of an anatomical gift is preferably made by the donor with that person’s intent conveyed to and discussed with family members. While no other individual is legally authorized to revoke a donor’s execution of an anatomical gift, in reality most hospitals, physicians and organ procurement personnel rely on family confirmation before receiving the gift. This is done in order to avoid potential legal actions, to avoid creating additional stress for the family at the time of a relative’s death, and to avoid any adverse public perceptions which may compromise organ donation programs by discouraging other potential donors. Therefore, to avoid the possibility of having a gift revoked or rejected, it is wise to make certain that the appropriate individuals in your family have been informed in advance about your commitment to your personal anatomical donation.

By statute, in the event a potential donor had not made any indication about making an anatomical gift, one way or the other, the consent to organ and tissue donation could be sought from these individuals in relation to the potential donor and in the following order of priority:

  1. Spouse
  2. Adult Child
  3. Parent
  4. Adult Sibling
  5. Legal Guardian

If any individual in a prior category refuses consent, then no organs or tissues will be taken.

LIMITATIONS ON ANATOMICAL GIFTS

The execution of an anatomical gift may specify that all or part of the body may be used. This authorization also allows any examination necessary to assure the medical acceptability of the gift. If the gift is of the entire body, where appropriate, the body may be embalmed and used for funeral services prior to the recipient accepting the gift. If the gift is for some parts of the entire body, these will be removed as soon as possible after death and the remainder of the body returned to the family or next of kin for disposition.

HOW DO I EXECUTE AN ANATOMICAL GIFT?

An anatomical gift may be executed by so indicating on the back of your driver’s license, or executing the Uniform Donor Card authorized by the Act, which is readily available through your physician or hospital.

It is not recommended that an anatomical gift be made solely in a will, since a will is often not read until after the funeral.

HOW DO I REVOKE AN ANATOMICAL GIFT?

An anatomical gift may be revoked at any time through any of the following methods:

  1. A signed statement of the donor;
  2. An oral statement made in the presence of two people;
  3. A statement made during a terminal illness or injury addressed to an attending physician;
  4. By destruction, mutilation or cancellation of the document; or
  5. A revised signed card or document.

WHO ARE THE POTENTIAL RECIPIENTS OF THE GIFT?

A donor may specify any of the following to become the recipient of an anatomical gift for the purposes stated:

  1. Any hospital, surgeon or physician, for medical or dental education, research, advancement of medical or dental science, therapy or transplantation;
  2. Any accredited medical or dental school, college or university or the State Anatomical Board for education, research, advancement of medical or dental science or therapy;
  3. Any bank or storage facility, for medical or dental education, research, advancement of medical or dental science, therapy or transplantation; or
  4. Any specified individual for therapy or transplantation needed.

Although a particular recipient may be named and specified, frequently they may not be compatible with the donor and an alternate recipient should be considered. Such factors as blood type, body size and urgency of need must be evaluated. Organ and tissue banks function collectively to determine the compatible matching of donors and recipients, and prioritized needs for anatomical gifts. Therefore, final decisions regarding appropriateness of transplantation are ultimately made by those organizations.

It is also acceptable to make an anatomical gift without specifying a recipient. In this instance, the gift may be accepted by the attending physician as an intermediate recipient upon or following death.