If You Donate Your Organs Or Body Can Your Family Still Conduct A Funeral

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Care Attorney

The topic of organ and body donation is sensitive.  Even the undersigned is squeamish when the thought of having critical body parts and/or my deceased body donated to medicine or science.

Clients and I discuss this “uneasiness” all the time and while on a cerebral level, we all realize we are dead, on an intuitive and emotional level we still fear some “after death consequence” by making an organ/body donation.

So what’s the law on organ donation?

Upon death a hospital and/or physician with knowledge of an organization who has been designated as a beneficiary of a person’s organ or body is to be notified when death is imminent in order to allow for a timely examination, evaluation and confirmation of both the donor’s status and whether the donation of organs and tissues for transplant can be feasibly accomplished.   Even before death a hospital with knowledge of an imminent death of an individual is required to make a reasonable search of the records of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to determine whether the soon to be deceased person has designated a donor registry for an anatomical gift.

Upon notice and verification that an individual intends to make an organ donation, the prospective recipient organization is allowed to conduct blood, tissue and other minimally invasive examinations reasonably necessary to evaluate the medical suitability of a body part that is or may be the subject of an anatomical gift for transplant therapy, research or education from a donor to a perspective donor.  The hospital is to maintain conditions to establish the medical suitability of the body until the procurement organization has a chance to make a determination.  Of course if the decedent is a minor then parental consent must be made prior to the removal of organs and/or the body for medical research.

The subject of whether the decedent can have a prompt and solemn funeral if organ donation is contemplated is somewhat troubling but it appears from my review of the law that the procurement organization has the right to take as much time as necessary in order to accomplish the organ transplant/donation and only after the completion of the process may it then release the body to the funeral representative or agent to allow for embalming, burial or cremation and the use of the remains in a funeral service.  Obviously, the removal of the organs is critical before the burial process.

Interestingly the statute provides that neither the physician, registered professional nurse or licensed medical professional who tends to the decedent at death or the physician or registered professionals who determine the time of the decedent’s death are allowed to participate in the procedure for removing or transplanting a part of the body from the decedent meaning a different physician and/or medical professional must evaluate the suitability of the donation and not the attending physician at the time of death.

I thought that you would find this blog of interest as it is a topic that is often asked but seldom answered by clients and professionals.

To discuss your NJ Elder Law matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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