Organ Donation Information

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A Brief Guide to Body and Organ Donation in the Philadelphia Region

by Leonard Finegold


Death provides many of us with a one-time chance to make a valuable gift to humanity. All major religions approve of body and organ donation for medical and dental teaching and research, and for transplants.


Donation of the Entire Body


The Humanity Gifts Registry (HGR), a nonprofit agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is an organization of Pennsylvania medical and dental schools. It receives and distributes bodies for teaching and research at those schools. All use of bodies is under the control of those schools, and none are released for commercial purposes. The Registry, formerly known as the Anatomical Board, accepts donors from New Jersey and Delaware as well. They accept only whole bodies (i.e., no autopsy, no parts removed). The HGR pays the first $50 of transportation from the place of death to a medical school, and the family is responsible for the remainder. In most parts of the state the HGR office can recommend a funeral director for transporting the body at a reasonable price. There is no other cost to the family. The HGR will take care of cremating the remains, and burial can be in an HGR cemetery plot. They are friendly, open, and direct. Note that occasionally a body is not acceptable, so alternate arrangements should also be considered. As always, make sure that the relevant people know your wishes. (Humanity Gifts Registry, P.O. Box 835, Philadelphia, PA 19105, 215/922-4440)


If you wish to donate your organs or tissue, a simple method is to check the "yes" square indicating donation on your driver's license application. This information will then be recorded on the license itself and is a valid legal document. One can also register with the nonprofit Gift of Life Donor Program, which serves the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. You will receive a pamphlet that includes a Family Notification Form and a card to be kept in your wallet, as well as a bumper sticker, key ring, pen, square button, and candy. It seems that in actual practice you don't need to do anything (except perhaps to expire) because hospitals automatically inform the donor agency of what is available. Then why bother to register as an organ donor? Such advance notice smooths things for the harvesting teams, who have to get permission from the next of kin. There is no cost to the donor's estate. Apparently only about 1 to 1.5% of bodies are used for organ donation, making it a low-probability event. (Gift of Life:


You should realize that even if you sign a donor card or indicate your donation preference on your driver's license, it is essential that your family knows your wishes.

 If the Medical Examiner of Philadelphia Office cremates, there is no charge to the family.  The Medical Examiners Office keeps ashes for at least seven years and then buries them. The family can claim the ashes at any time while they are being held, for no charge. Call (215)-685-7450 for more information on obtaining a pauper's burial or claiming ashes.