U Program Wants Donated Bodies

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New billboards along I-15 urge people to take the time to fill out an organ donor form by paraphrasing Paul Simon’s song: “There must be 50 ways to leave your liver.”

Utah now has its own organ donor registry, which will make it easier for people to donate their body parts to others. Donors can also register to be living donors to give blood, bone marrow or a kidney.

The organ donor registry doesn’t handle whole bodies, but instead refers people to the U’s Body Donor Program (BDP). Program Director Kerry Peterson is pleased with the awareness the new organ donor registry is receiving and hopes that it will carry over to body donation.

While a majority of donated bodies come from Utah and the surrounding states, the U’s BDP is a regional resource for anatomic material. Bodies come from all over, even from Florida and Texas.

“People actually spend the money to send bodies to us,” Peterson said. “Critical care patients come from all over the Intermountain region, so we send bodies and parts back, too. It’s not just teaching hospitals and facilities. There are many research facilities that need what we have, too.”

There are no other BDPs in Utah. The University of Nevada in Reno has a small program, the University of Idaho in Boise has a small program, too. Denver has a good program affiliated with its university and so does Arizona, but that’s about it for the Intermountain West, according to Peterson.

There is no body donor registry in Utah, but the U’s BDP has thousands of people in its files who have prearranged body donations. In body donation, the need isn’t as critical as it usually is with organ donation.

“Time is not of the essence,” Peterson said. “We can even take the body after it’s been embalmed by a mortuary. In organ donation, that would destroy the organs.”

The BDP sends out wallet body donor cards with its paperwork, but donors don’t need to keep them in their wallets. In Utah, donors don’t need to sign anything. The next of kin can sign the papers after a person’s death.

Body donation is still ultimately up to the family unless there is a strong legal statement or clause in the donor’s will.

“The U’s body donor program is happy to do business that way because we like to have general consensus from the nearest legal next of kin,” Peterson said. “We just like to have consent. It would be horrible [publicity] for the U if the family didn’t give consent.”

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