Monday, November 23, 2009
Body Donation is easy!
My mother passed away on Saturday afternoon.
In deference to her oft-expressed wishes, my sister and I decided to donate her body for medical research, despite some personal misgivings, especially about whether there would be a dignified treatment of her remains. As such, there would be necessarily be no "funeral" or cremation, if this were to happen.
We had never thought of how to implement her wishes, but these were our first thoughts when we were forced to come face-to-face with her not being with us any more. We knew that eyes needed to be donated first, so we located an eye bank in Thane with the help of the nursing home. A doctor with his assistant arrived within the half-hour, during which we elevated my mother's head and placed wet cotton wool on her eyelids.
We then asked about the body donation, but no one seemed to know. We talked to three doctors whom we knew. One of them phoned up the coroner in Rajawadi Hospital and we were told that JJ Hospital is the place to go. But then, we remembered the big ruckus that had happened when one of our ex-neighbours passed away at his place of work in Mumbai, and his body was brought to Thane (a neighbouring city) for cremation. No one allowed the cremation in Thane because he died in Mumbai. We were averse to having jurisdictional issues to deal with.
A second doctor told us the same, but a third doctor spoke to his friend in Rajiv Gandhi Medical College attached to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial Hospital in Kalwa (within the Thane Municipal Corporation limits) and were told the usual procedure, and the exception procedure because it was a Saturday afternoon and the medical college would be closed, which was to deposit the body in the morgue and actually do the donation formalities on Monday morning. We decided that this seemed the most promising alternative which we woudl investigate first. We had also thought to ourselves that we would have a normal funeral if we encountered too much bureaucracy.
Since we decided to wait for 3 hours for my aunt to arrive from Pune to have one last look at her younger sister, during this time, there were discussions -- and many more misgivings. One person told us that the body would decompose over the weekend, as there were probably no proper storage facilities. Another told us that they will refuse the donation because the donation request was not pre-registered with the medical college. Then, another person asked, is it not possible to only donate a few organs so that the rest of the body can be cremated? A fourth said, why go to all this trouble? In any case, body donation is not part of Hindu culture, so why not just go ahead and call a priest? The funeral rites require ashes, and here there will be no ashes. And so on.... I am recording all these misgivings because they will be issues raised for almost anyone proposing to do this.
The procedure, as it turned out, was simple: We were to go to the Casualty Department, meet the Casualty Medical Officer, and he would guide us about the rest of the procedure. We did that, and Dr. Gangwani, the CMO on duty, told us that we would have to pay Rs.100 for 2 days of renting a controlled temperature compartment in the mortuary to store the body. On making that payment, the morgue would accept and store the body. (That was more than one misgiving out of the way). We told him that we will be back in 2-3 hours, and hurried back to the nursing home. Later that evening, we gave a copy of the death certificate, paid the fee, and on the strength of that receipt, got an entry made in the Bodies Received register maintained by Security, and we were allowed to deposit the body in the mortuary, which was surprisingly clean and odor-free except for a certain staleness due to its being closed. This whole process took no more than 20 minutes. It took longer than that for all those who accompanied the ambulance to pay their final respects.
On Monday morning, my sister and I came at 10 am to the Anatomy Department of the Medical College, who gave us a form of an affidavit in Marathi that we had to execute on Rs.100 stamp paper, which took us around 35 minutes outside the nearby District Sessions Court. Another 10 minutes to get it notarised before a Notary Public and we were back at the Anatomy Department before 11 am. It took us 10 minutes for the polite Dr Anagha Apte at the Anatomy Department to fill out, get signed and give us a Certificate for Body Donation. That was done and finished by 11:15. That was all!
I found that they also have a facility of pre-registering for body donation -- they will issue the donor a Body Donation Card, which will make the procedure even simpler. That records the intent before death.
While I was waiting for the certificate, I saw some old newspaper clippings about body donation, which explained that any organs good enough to use for transplantation would be "harvested" first; including the skin for grafts for burns victims. The rest of the body would then be used to teach dissection to medical students, and later the skeleton and any other body parts not suitable for transplantation would be preserved in formalin for benefit of students.
One of the doctors I was talking to told me that technology existed to shave the cornea into three layers, and use each layer for grafting to three different patients, so a pair of eyes with good corneas could restore sight to as many as six persons!
I have decided that I shall do the same, following my Mother's last lesson imparted by personal example.