Twelve years ago, I wrote some thoughts about what to do with our bodies when we’re finished with them. I’d put it more sensitively now, but still think it’s a good idea to donate as much as possible to Medicine and Science, then turn the rest over to Nature.

In the course of making a will recently, I asked our lawyer whether I should use it to specify how I want my remains to be handled. He said that what I wanted could be done by first registering as an organ donor with the Motor Vehicle Administration (which I’d already done), then registering for the State Anatomy Board’s body donation program. In Maryland, that’s:

You have to ask them to mail you a form, then complete it with signatures from two witnesses, and send it back. They also give you a card to keep in your wallet, to make sure the Board is notified as quickly as possible.

Upon your death, the organ donation program harvests what they can use for people waiting for organ transplants. (Please, keep them all as healthy as you can until then!) The remains of your remains pass to the Anatomy Board for use in research and education. On average, they hold onto them for a year to a year-and-a-half. (I’ll admit to a moment of being taken aback at the thought of bits of me lying around that long, but better that they should be kept until everyone’s sure they’ve put them to all their uses.)

After that, what’s left is cremated, and the ashes interred at a gravesite owned by the Board. A friend whose grandfather donated his body said the Board holds an annual memorial service for everyone who donated that year. I wish natural burial were an option, but natural cemeteries are uncommon in the U.S., and, I would imagine, natural burial is more expensive (and certainly requires more space). I’ll write the Board to ask them to consider making it a choice, but at least cremation is far better for the environment than the common alternative.

I hope you’ll consider registering for both organ and body donation wherever you live. It’s a final, invaluable gift to the next generation.

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