Breaking Down Organ and Body Donation Misconceptions - Transcript

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Breaking Down Organ and Body Donation Misconceptions – Transcript

[00:00:00] Pete Waggoner: Happy October, everyone. Welcome to the Good Grief podcast. Along with Amber Miller, I’m Pete Waggoner, and today we’re going to talk about something that’s probably more in vogue in April as National Donate Life Month, but we’re going to talk a lot about the misconceptions of donation and how it affects funeral services.

[00:00:24] Pete Waggoner: Back with more right after this.

[00:00:31] Pete Waggoner: Have you ever tried to plan something important when you are sad or stressed out? I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at some point and know that it’s not fun. We make more mistakes, are more forgetful, or our energy to manage all of the details is depleted and we simply feel more overwhelmed and stressed.

[00:00:49] Pete Waggoner: More and more people are preplanning their own funerals to save their loved ones from having to do it during an emotional time in their life. If you’re thinking of preplanning for your funeral, but are unsure where to start, [00:01:00] we have an easy tool for you. You can head to the website, for a free holiday PDF resource. It will provide you with 12 questions that you and your family can have fun discussing during the holidays to not only help them learn about you, but also for you to learn something about them. And as a bonus, it comes with a handy worksheet for collecting your thoughts.

[00:01:20] Pete Waggoner: You can also write down important items that your family has shared and do that simply by heading over to the website and get that now let’s head back to the podcast. 

[00:01:28] Pete Waggoner: We welcome you all back to the Good Grief podcast. And by the way, I want to do a quick shout out to all of you that have listened in on this podcast and actually people listen to this thing. It’s incredible. 

[00:01:39] Pete Waggoner: And Amber, thanks for joining us. Be sure to check everything out at the All of your needs, resources, and things that you need to do the great funeral directors that are here that you need to reach out to are right there on the website, 

[00:01:57] Pete Waggoner: You mentioned here that April is [00:02:00] National Donate Life Month. What does that mean exactly? Even though it’s October. 

[00:02:03] Amber Miller: So the month of April is really important to talk about the importance of donating and having that donate notation on your driver’s license.

[00:02:11] Amber Miller: But I think it’s important to talk about year round. Because it’s an important topic. And there’s just a lot of questions about it too. Especially as it relates to funerals. What can I do? What can’t I do if I choose or my loved one chooses to donate organs or tissues or even do a whole body donation.

[00:02:29] Pete Waggoner: So that’s what donate life means though, right? Sometimes it could be for research. Sometimes it could be for organs or whatever it may be. 

[00:02:38] Pete Waggoner: Wow. So this is interesting. There are misconceptions though, that fly around. And there’s some myths. 

[00:02:43] Amber Miller: Yep. 

[00:02:44] Pete Waggoner: You can’t have an open casket or viewing if you’re in the donation world, is that true or false?

[00:02:50] Amber Miller: A hundred percent false. So any sort of tissue or organ donation process, whether it’s corneas or skin or internal [00:03:00] organs, it does not affect the ability to have an open casket service or viewing, everything would happen exactly the same way. 

[00:03:06] Pete Waggoner: All of that would occur before you got to the body, correct?

[00:03:10] Amber Miller: Correct. Yep. So usually after someone dies and it all depends on the situation. That’s when any of those harvesting would happen. So whether, like I said, it’s tissue or eyes or organs, all of that would happen. And then we’re able to take that person into our care and go forward with the exact same process we normally would.

[00:03:28] Pete Waggoner: Does that slow the process considerably or limited in terms of you getting the body? 

[00:03:34] Amber Miller: No. We work really closely with the local organizations here and we’re able to make it as a smooth and quickest process for the family so they can continue their planning process. 

[00:03:44] Pete Waggoner: What about this driver’s license thing?

[00:03:46] Pete Waggoner: I guess it’s a myth that if you had the word donor or donation on your license it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen? Is that true or false? 

[00:03:53] Amber Miller: Yeah, we get that a lot from families. “Mom or dad had donor on their driver’s license. They’re for sure [00:04:00] gonna be taking organs or tissues.”

[00:04:02] Amber Miller: And it’s not necessarily the case. So the majority of people who die are either dying at their home or in a care center, not necessarily on life support. If we think about someone who had a traumatic car accident and is on life support at a hospital, that’s most certainly a possibility. Because all of those tissues, especially the organs, are viable. 

[00:04:22] Amber Miller: Now tissues are a little bit different. Tissues can still stay viable long after the death happens. So you still have a little bit of time to be able to do that. But organs, not so much. So we always have to either educate the family on that or get them in connection with the local organizations that will help answer their questions.

[00:04:46] Pete Waggoner: Good to know. So now how about this? If you decide to donate your body to science at any time, or you can even at death, does that mean you, the individual or the power of attorney, [00:05:00] caretakers, whatever?

[00:05:00] Amber Miller: Yeah, so if you’re caring for a loved one for instance, and they pass away, the myth is that at that time you can decide to donate their body to a science or to a program.

[00:05:12] Amber Miller: And while that was maybe the case a couple of years ago, maybe pre COVID. It’s not usually the case anymore. 

[00:05:18] Pete Waggoner: Oh, really? 

[00:05:19] Pete Waggoner: So that changed the rules. Basically, they don’t know what’s going on in there and you gotta register. They can determine you’re okay? 

[00:05:25] Amber Miller: Yep. Most organizations will want to do a pre registration process.

[00:05:30] Amber Miller: Not only because the interest in donating people’s body to science has increased, so they’ve had many more people that have wanted to donate. So they have a plethora of participants in that respect. But also, just like you said, they’re wanting to pre-register to make sure that everything is okay for their program in specific.

[00:05:49] Amber Miller: And for some, like a brain donation program in particular, they may be looking for someone who has a rare brain disorder and maybe not dementia, but they’re looking for a particular [00:06:00] disorder or disease that maybe will help their physicians and their nurses to be able to learn from something they don’t see as often. 

[00:06:06] Pete Waggoner: As is the case with many services that are provided that people think are just free. There’s a myth out there that autopsies are free of charge and the family can request one at any time, but that’s not really true?

[00:06:18] Amber Miller: Not necessarily the case. So usually, unless it’s deemed necessary by the medical examiner or a physician, most autopsies will have to be paid by the family. And unfortunately, because of COVID, there aren’t very many places, at least in these communities that are local here, that do a lot of private autopsies.

[00:06:36] Pete Waggoner: What would be obviously autopsies are performed when there’s some sort of foul play? Because they’ve got to gather evidence. But what would be an example of just a random autopsy for a normal person where they’re like, sure, we’ll do it? 

[00:06:51] Amber Miller: More unattended deaths. So maybe someone who was found in their home after being deceased and maybe there’s no [00:07:00] apparent medical history that would show that there was any issues. Because essentially what the medical examiner does when he or she reports to a scene is they look over all the medical history and say, Oh yes, he had lots of issues with his heart in the past.

[00:07:13] Amber Miller: So this looks to be maybe a heart attack or issues with diabetes or congestive heart failure, COPD, or, the list goes on. Some of those conditions and they can reasonably say this is what it looks like in terms of the cause of death. And obviously if they see something that’s you know drug related or suicide you know they can make that determination. But if they can’t make that determination at the time, and there’s like I said, no apparent medical history then they may deem that an autopsy is necessary.

[00:07:41] Pete Waggoner: There’s not a medical examiner in every street corner either where we can just go have it done. And obviously they need to be paid for their services even though it may feel like it’s a county driven position. There’s other parts of that too. 

[00:07:53] Pete Waggoner: Another myth, you can’t have an open casket service or viewing if you’ve had an autopsy. Is that really a myth? 

[00:07:59] Amber Miller: It [00:08:00] is, yep. So very similar to the organ donation or tissue or eye donation. Again, that’s false. You can still have every type of service that a family wishes if that loved one has gone through an autopsy. 

[00:08:11] Pete Waggoner: So basically if they cut you open and take a look on the inside there and look around, they just close you back up, right? That’s okay. That’s probably a crude way of saying it, but but that’s the truth. 

[00:08:22] Pete Waggoner: How about this? But then on the flip side of the coin, some people believe that funeral directors actually conduct and do autopsies slash determine causes of death, right? Who would think that?

[00:08:34] Amber Miller: I think I probably get it about once a week when meeting with families that they say, “what are you going to put down for the cause of death?”

[00:08:40] Amber Miller: And I say, I’m not a physician. Love physicians, but that’s not me. I’m not able to determine a cause of death. That’s something that they determine. And then they will put it on the death certificate. So we don’t do any sort of autopsies. Though, there are some communities and in states around the country where maybe a funeral director [00:09:00] is also a medical examiner.

[00:09:01] Amber Miller: That happens in some smaller communities in and around the country, but we are not that. 

[00:09:07] Pete Waggoner: Wow. Okay. What happens off the grid here for a minute, if someone does a brain donation for CTE or whatever. I don’t think that’s the easiest thing to get to. What happens there? That would be a question I would be like, do they go from the back or how do they get it?

[00:09:24] Amber Miller: So they make an incision right behind the ear. So from ear to ear, if you think about it over the skull. And that’s where they’ll get access to the skull and be able to open that and then retrieve the brain for research. 

[00:09:36] Pete Waggoner: And then you can still do an open casket, close it up like it never happened. 

[00:09:39] Amber Miller: Yep. 

[00:09:40] Pete Waggoner: Oh, okay. 

[00:09:41] Pete Waggoner: Another myth, everyone has an autopsy after they die. And I think we covered that moments ago. So sad. 

[00:09:46] Amber Miller: Correct. 

[00:09:47] Pete Waggoner: It doesn’t come with.

[00:09:48] Amber Miller: If the physician or medical examiner can easily say, yep, it was likely this cause of death, then there would be no autopsy involved. 

[00:09:55] Pete Waggoner: Funerals that have a donation, what do they look like?[00:10:00] 

[00:10:00] Amber Miller: Yeah, so we get that question a lot, especially being really close to a body donation facility in the Twin Cities here, is “what does that funeral look like if my loved one decided to donate their body to science?” And most programs will use.

[00:10:15] Pete Waggoner: When you say body, you’re talking the whole shebang. 

[00:10:19] Amber Miller: So us funeral directors, we use and are so very grateful for those who have donated their body to the program because that’s how we learn to embalm and cosmetics and learn all the anatomy.

[00:10:31] Amber Miller: We’re learning from people who’ve donated their body, as is all medical students, all kinesiologists, physical therapists. They’re all using body donations to be able to learn the muscles and the vasculature and all of it. 

[00:10:44] Pete Waggoner: Crazy question. Then they don’t have very long with those bodies?

[00:10:48] Amber Miller: So they have about 18 months. So they keep their bodies there for about 18 months.

[00:10:53] Pete Waggoner: How do they not decompose? 

[00:10:54] Amber Miller: They go through kind of their own embalming process. 

[00:10:57] Pete Waggoner: Which is different. 

[00:10:57] Amber Miller: Which is a little bit different than what we do in funeral homes. [00:11:00] Yep. 

[00:11:00] Pete Waggoner: So they can keep, wow. 

[00:11:01] Amber Miller: So they can preserve them. And maybe just the medical school, especially for an occupational therapist, for instance, may just be studying one person’s knee for 18 months and seeing all the muscle and the bone. 

[00:11:13] Pete Waggoner: Does that really happen? 

[00:11:15] Amber Miller: Absolutely. 

[00:11:16] Pete Waggoner: Like really? 

[00:11:16] Amber Miller: Yes.

[00:11:17] Pete Waggoner: What kind of psychology plays into that from, you know? 

[00:11:22] Amber Miller: A family’s perspective?

[00:11:23] Pete Waggoner: Yeah. Does that seem like there’s really not closure and they know the body’s over there. Do they talk through that with you? 

[00:11:28] Amber Miller: Yeah, and sometimes, so we’re big advocates to not waiting until their cremated remains are returned from the program because sometimes that can take anywhere from a year to 18 months. So we’re always advocating for having services right away. So for some programs, they allow to have the body here at the funeral home to say final goodbyes, just like a funeral.

[00:11:49] Amber Miller: And then they would be donating their body to the program. Some programs even allow all the way up till the embalming and the service and the casket and then donation. So you have to check [00:12:00] with your program. But regardless, if they decide to still go straight to the body donation, we’ve done plenty of services where no physical remains are present.

[00:12:10] Amber Miller: So whether that’s a picture up front.

[00:12:12] Pete Waggoner: It’s almost like a cremation minus the. 

[00:12:15] Amber Miller: Like a celebration of life with no one present. We do lots of them for those that are donated. 

[00:12:20] Pete Waggoner: Interesting. 

[00:12:23] Pete Waggoner: To get this clear. You will embalm them, get that funeral done quickly. And then wherever they go, they’ll do their own process over your embalming thing.

[00:12:33] Amber Miller: Yeah. So some programs are okay with that. Some aren’t. So it’s always something to check with your program on first, but for the most part, if someone is doing a donation, especially to like the bequest program across the river here, typically we would have maybe a private family view here at the funeral home to say final goodbyes and then over to the bequest program after that.

[00:12:54] Pete Waggoner: Okay. How about tissue and organ donation? 

[00:12:58] Amber Miller: Yeah.

[00:12:58] Pete Waggoner: What does that look like? And [00:13:00] actually if you do tissue donation, can you explain that? 

[00:13:03] Amber Miller: Yeah, so that’s a big concern especially with tissues as it relates to like the corneas, or anything related to the eyes is oh, “I don’t you know, if they do that, he’s not gonna look or she’s not gonna look the same.” No issues there.

[00:13:17] Amber Miller: So there should be no fear about doing it. 

[00:13:19] Pete Waggoner: You cover the eyes in our September podcast with the myths. 

[00:13:22] Amber Miller: Absolutely. 

[00:13:23] Pete Waggoner: And it won’t matter. 

[00:13:25] Amber Miller: Nope, no, no preference at all and usually the tissue that they choose to take if it’s not eyes and maybe they choose skin because they use that for like burn victims and other surgeries.

[00:13:35] Amber Miller: Those are things that are hidden away and nothing that you would, they wouldn’t take it from an area that you would see in a casket.

[00:13:41] Pete Waggoner: It’s just crazy when you think about it. It’s almost like we’re into the ability to almost do this like body recycling. I mean in a weird way, where he can reuse the skin and things like that. And then that life might continue another one, seriously that could go on and on.

[00:13:57] Pete Waggoner: That’s cool. 

[00:13:58] Amber Miller: Yeah, Oh, absolutely. 

[00:13:59] Pete Waggoner: Super cool. 

[00:13:59] Amber Miller: [00:14:00] Yeah. Thinking about it as like the next horror movie or something. 

[00:14:03] Pete Waggoner: Yeah. You and I are going to write a really good one here. 

[00:14:06] Amber Miller: It’s so beneficial and helps so many different things.

[00:14:09] Pete Waggoner: So obviously, April is National Donate to Life Month.

[00:14:13] Pete Waggoner: Do you have anything here in October on your website where people can learn more about that or no? Is that something you stay out of? 

[00:14:19] Amber Miller: The local resources in and around the community are always posting really good resources and educating a lot of the families about what donation looks like on their end.

[00:14:28] Pete Waggoner: Excellent. 

[00:14:28] Amber Miller: And how excellent it affects the funeral. So if there’s ever any questions that you have, always feel free to reach out to us either on our resources page on our website. Or give us a call and we can always point you to the correct organizations that would better help you. 

[00:14:40] Pete Waggoner: That’s awesome. Great show. Good stuff. I love hammering out the myths. It’s so fun.

[00:14:46] Amber Miller: We get them all the time. 

[00:14:47] Pete Waggoner: It’s fantastic. It’s a fact of life. 

[00:14:49] Pete Waggoner: So Amber, thanks a lot. 

[00:14:51] Amber Miller: Thank you so much. 

[00:14:51] Pete Waggoner: We’ll see you next month. 

[00:14:52] Amber Miller: Yeah. 

[00:14:52] Pete Waggoner: So long everybody.