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.


  1. Dear Rajesh,

    Brave of you to do this.

    I'm sorry to hear of your mom's passing. May her soul rest in peace and may god give you and the family even more courage to bear the loss.

    Kaushik Mitter

  2. Dear rajesh
    condolences to you and your sister for passing away of your mother, and kudos for the bravery and compassion for your mother's wishes. may your tribe increase.
    I read it the piece in the karmyog digest, and am moved to show my appreciation of the deed. I am much inspired by this, as i always thought body donation was not a simple exercise. Thank you for sharing such private and brave moment.
    shobha Mathur


    The above blog entry is a poem written after hearing about my mother's decision to donate her body.

  4. hi,
    sorry for your mother's death.

    thank you for this information about body donation being easy , i have been searching this information for a long time. being in thane ragiv gandhi hospital would be close.

    ashwini pawar

  5. Dear Rajesh,
    Sorry to hear about your mother moving on. May her soul rest in peace. However I am sure after your act it definitely will!
    I am sure it takes a lot of courage to perform this act.
    God bless you.

  6. Thanks for sharing this with all...we r at present going through tough times. My grandmother aged 79 is in the ICU at Belapur, Navi Mumbai. The desire to donate her body has been expressed by all her near and dear ones. But nobody seemed to know about the procedure. Since I was finding out whether I can get any info thru net, I came across ur blog. Since she has not registered anywhere and is now too critical to sign the form, it is our responsibility to do the needful. Also the piece of info on not letting to cremate outside respective municipal jurisdiction was worth knowing. As my grandmother has been staying in Bandra but was visiting me where she unfortunately had to be moved to hospital and is on the fringe of death, the jurisdiction of cremation may matter if we take her dead body back to Bandra.
    Thanks for sharing. Such experiences are much valuable for people in similar situation.

  7. We faced the sad demise of my grandmother on 29th June 2010 at 8 am. Since i was aware about the process of eyes and body donation through this article of yours, the process was done very smoothly. Her eyes and body was donated to the eye bank and Anatomy Dept. of MGM Medical college Kamothe, Navi Mumbai respectively. Thank you once again. We could honour the wish of our grandmother.

  8. I'm sorry to hear about your mother.

    I've read a certain 'Rajesh Haldipur' at the Economist and then googled to find more and was led to this blog.

    If that's you, I must tell you that your comments at the Economist are enlightening.

    I look forward to going through your blog soon...and learning a thing or two about Economics from you..

  9. Donate Life
    Bikesh Shrestha,

    Ever since I was a child, I wondered why dead bodies are burned. I live quite near a cemetery (a funeral pyre for burning bodies) and occasionally, when the wind is strong, the smoke enters our house. I always felt that the smell was bad for our health and for the biosphere too, as we breathe in the air. Those were my childhood thoughts. Now I know more about the biosphere, atmosphere and gasses found on Earth.

    As I gradually became more educated, I felt that I wanted my body to be buried under a big tree, with no tomb, as Christians have, or to donate my body to a university for medical research. I told my parents and other members of my family but they said it was a foolish idea and against our religion.

    However, now I know that this is one of the best things I could do for mankind. I've always wondered, since I was a child, why the Nepalese burned bodies. This is just a custom and has no scientific basis.

    During my childhood I saw many funeral processions. Some bodies had even been placed on a large chair. This is a Buddhist tradition, especially in the Bajracharya community.

    I saw lots of people in the procession behind a dead body (malami haru) and I always wondered why. I told my mother that I didn't want to trouble people after my death so to just take a taxi or ambulance and take my body to Swoyambhu and bury it under a big tree. I thought that my body would decompose and the tree would gain some fertiliser and would grow even bigger because of this human fertiliser and that, ultimately, it would give out good oxygen into the atmosphere and that mankind would benefit.

    I also thought that burning bodies uses up a lot of wood, which meant we would have to cut down trees, but that we should not cut down trees because they are a source of oxygen and that would mean degrading the environment.

    Gradually I developed the idea of donating my eyes. My family was opposed to it and said that I would not attain salvation. They called it "Paar lagdaina". I actually still do not know the meaning of "Paar
    lagdaina". It is just a conservative and ignorant idea.

    I always told my family about my ideas and they called me a foolish child. a long while late, I got ill and was taken to hospital where I saw many people who did not have any major disease dying. I felt that
    the body should not be burned but instead used to feed the big jungle animals, so that they would not have to kill deer, wild pigs, antelope, etc.

    In Nepal, on Lord Krishna's birthday a certain street (Tol) has a photographic exhibition of Lord Krishna. I saw that Buddha has cut off his own flesh to give to a weak, hungry tiger. I was shocked – how could anyone give a piece of his body in such a manner? Only Buddha could do it it because he is superhuman - this being an extremely thing to do. But I was also searching for something else.

    Finally, after reading various textbooks at college (around 1978 when I was 16), I read about the first human heart transplant performed by Dr. Christian Barnard in South Africa. This enlightened me and motivated me. Here was my answer.

    After reading about that, I wondered when it would happen in Nepal. Now respected doctors perform organ transplants very successfully. Well done to our life-saving doctors. Doctors are one type of Boddhisatva (one of the paths to Buddhahood). I also read of a Tibetan tradition of throwing dead bodies out to feed eagles and vultures. This is a very good idea and very praise-worthy.

    Ever since then I have been interested in human organ transplantation. In my opinion, Nepal lags behind in this field so we need to do more to encourage people to donate their bodies and/or organs.

  10. Mr. Haldipur its really too hard to take a such decision about our parents even its their last wish. I am an only daughter of parent and they wants to go for body donation. I read all above views.but still i am not clear whether its really worth or in other words the moto of this donation would be actually worked out. Are the hospitals / medical students really facing such problem? Can anybody help me out.

    Rashi Polekar

  11. Sorry to hear about your mother and glad that with this sacrifice she will be among us for ever.

    I thank you for sharing this very important information and inspiring others. I was looking for on line form for myself when I came across your blog, which has shown me the right path. Thanks

  12. Hi....
    Good and wise decision.
    I have seen death of my close relative and post death body handling too.
    I wish I can donate my body after my death.
    If anyone aware, can we fill the body donation form online?
    Please revert on