An­nal­isa Bar­bi­eri

Can we stop our mother do­nat­ing her body to sci­ence?

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Our mother is 81, in good phys­i­cal health and spir­its, and wishes to do­nate her body to med­i­cal re­search af­ter death. It’s very im­por­tant to her – she sees it as giv­ing some­thing back (she had a trans­plant some years ago). But my sis­ter and I are hav­ing dif­fi­culty with this de­ci­sion.

When Mum passes away, we will have to make a phone call to the be­queathal of­fice quickly and, should she be ac­cepted, it is es­sen­tial that her body is trans­ported away within two to three hours. We have looked into the pos­si­bil­ity of a de­lay be­fore the body is col­lected, but it seems there isn’t one.

My sis­ter and I are up­set about be­ing de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to spend time with Mum af­ter her death. We both spent a lit­tle time with our de­ceased father be­fore his funeral, and found this to be help­ful for griev­ing and our sense of clo­sure.

Mum knows how we feel. We asked her to re­con­sider with the ben­e­fit of a clear ex­pla­na­tion of our feel­ings and thoughts. How­ever, de­spite this, she is com­pletely de­ter­mined. His­tor­i­cally, the fam­ily have dis­re­garded what I think as unim­por­tant, so know­ing that Mum has heard my opin­ion but is choos­ing to fol­low her own wishes feels like an­other in­val­i­da­tion.

We care very much that our mother is able to feel peace­ful and trust­ing as she nears the last few years of her life, but can’t seem to find a way for us all to have our needs and wishes met.

I re­ally feel for you. Be­ing able to spend time with a loved one af­ter they die can be re­ally spe­cial, but it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble, for a myr­iad of rea­sons. I can see that the un­cer­tainty is also caus­ing you huge angst. That’s be­cause you are fo­cus­ing so much on her death and feel there should be an el­e­ment of con­trol over it, which there isn’t. Death is about let­ting go. (We’ll get back to the word con­trol in a mo­ment.)

You seem to know, from your longer let­ter, much about the pro­ce­dure, but for those who don’t, it varies ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal fa­cil­ity. Bodies can usu­ally be ac­cepted up to five days af­ter death, if cor­rectly looked af­ter. So your fa­cil­ity want­ing it within a few hours is in­deed very fast.

But let’s cut the emo­tion out of this, just for a mo­ment. Your mother has ex­pressed her wish and, pre­sum­ably, signed the rel­e­vant doc­u­ments (only she can give per­mis­sion and her body will not be ac­cepted with­out her signed con­sent). As you state, you have no le­gal obli­ga­tion to call the med­i­cal fa­cil­ity and won’t be break­ing the law if you don’t (I checked with a lawyer). But I’m of the view that, if some­one has com­mu­ni­cated last wishes, and you are able to carry them out, then you have a moral obli­ga­tion to do so. At the mo­ment, you are fo­cus­ing on what you and your sis­ter want af­ter your mother dies, and how that would bring you peace. But I won­der how you will re­ally feel, in your imag­ined sit­u­a­tion of spend­ing time with your mother af­ter her death, know­ing you have not made the call and are not go­ing to carry out her fi­nal wish? How will you feel when you are sit­ting there with her, know­ing you are not do­ing what she wanted?

There is much more go­ing on here. You hint at it your­self: your feel­ings of in­val­i­da­tion and that your emo­tional needs weren’t met go back a long way. But on this oc­ca­sion, maybe your mother has lis­tened to you and just doesn’t agree with you. This isn’t in­val­i­da­tion, but a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion. I think you are try­ing to con­trol the un­con­trol­lable, which is the death of your last liv­ing par­ent. I’ve seen it be­fore in one form or an­other; I think I prob­a­bly do it my­self.

There are many things you can do to mark the pass­ing of your mother when the time comes. You can still hold a cel­e­bra­tion of her life. You can try to spend mean­ing­ful time with her now, while she’s alive. I know it’s not what you want, but I re­ally do be­lieve that to go against her wishes would not give you last­ing peace. Your jour­ney to ac­cept­ing her de­ci­sion and, in do­ing so, ac­cept­ing the fact that she will die one day, means you are ac­tu­ally do­ing quite a bit of work on your grief now.

Al­low your­self the luxury of let­ting go and go­ing with her de­ci­sion. She might not be able to con­trol what hap­pens af­ter she dies, but, while she’s liv­ing, she needs to be­lieve she can

The Hu­man Tis­sue Au­thor­ity:

Send your prob­lem to an­nal­­bi­ An­nal­isa re­grets she can­not en­ter into per­sonal cor­re­spon­dence

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