This is a very polarizing issue in funeral service. I would say that 90% of the embalmers I know are very anti-donation. Why? Because it creates more work for us. A lot more work. But you know what? To me, it’s worth it. I’m paid for my time and I’m not afraid of a little hard work—especially if it means that so many people can benefit from the gifts of this donor body. And I’m so happy to see something written by an embalmer who feels the same way I do about this topic!
I would be minus a couple of wonderful friends were it not for organ donation. It always breaks my heart to hear the mean and incisive complaints of “extra work” from the folks down at the medical examiner’s office.
What’s that old goth saying? “Something something, death isn’t an ending—it’s only the beginning…”
as a non-embalmer myself, I hear a lot of complaints from the embalmers about organ and tissue donors and their preparation, especially those who have been in the business for a long time. and yes, I’ll admit, I’d much rather dress and casket someone who wasn’t a donor than someone who was…well, most of the time anyway. there can be just as many issues. but, maybe I should be out of the business and maybe that’s a different post for a different day.
overall, I’m all for organ and tissue donation, however, I have an ethics problem as to how tissue is used, as it can be used for elective cosmetic surgeries, and they don’t really tell you that. it takes a little extra time and paperwork, but I know that the skin of my ass isn’t going to end up on someone’s face unless they needed it, and that makes me feel good.
Ugh love that two of my fave bloggers have both replied to this. Out of interest though for someone who doesn’t work in this industry, what are the harder parts that your co workers talk about? Does embalming become more difficult with a missing organ? Is it harder to put eye caps on a corneal donor? Yeah I could have googled it but this is better :D
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Damnit i just googled…and it totally makes sense. Bloody know it all search engine. Well now I can see why some people would complain. This is actually awesome what I found…anyone wanting to know like I do have a look at this pdf file http://www.life-source.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Embalming-Tips-for-Donors_March-2011.pdf
the issue that embalmers have is more often with tissue donors than organ donors. sometimes only the top layer of the skin on the legs and back is taken, but more often (at least in this area), all layers of skin are taken, literally just leaving exposed muscle on the thighs and often the entire back. so, imagine trying to take raw meat and treating it so that it is in a condition to be out in public (under clothes, of course) in some sort of fashion so that no one knows that it’s just raw, exposed meat under there. also, the bones in the arms and legs are often taken and replaced with articulated wooden rods.
i wonder a lot of the time if people would still go through with wanting a viewing if they knew what processes were involved in preparation of full-donation cases, because it takes a skilled embalmer sometimes to get someone back to “normal,” depending on the circumstances of death, the length of time that they were deceased, and the methods used to treat the exposed surfaces. i’m all for transparency in the funeral industry, which a lot of people aren’t. there’s still an old-school way of thinking that the embalming process is too “gruesome” for the public, but i think that people have a right to know exactly what’s being done to their bodies and the bodies of their family members.
so while i’m 100% for organ and tissue donation, i also think that people need to know what kind of condition their body is going to be in should a full donation take place, exactly what’s going to need to be done to prepare their body for a viewing if they so choose to have one, then decide after they know all the details. or, in the event of an unexpected death of a donor, the family should know the same things before making decisions. not for the embalmer, but just what’s best for the deceased, and for the family.
I do agree, though i think some people who don’t already know about the embalming process may not want to know what is done to their loved ones body to make them look like they are purely sleeping. Certainly after my grandpa died almost 10 yrs ago now, i became a little obsessed with the whole medical side of death and found out myself what the processes were as the whole open casket thing freaked me out, and i really expected him to wake up right there. Though touching his hand didn’t freak me out, i wasn’t thinking he was going to be warm.
I suppose it depends on the individual. I had a death related breakdown a few yrs ago, then my papa died a yr after that…and as there was no viewing i needed the closure to know it was actually him there but at the same time i was kind of glad i didn’t go through it a second time.
I would think if people want to know then they will search for answers. I certainly can’t imagine a little pamphlet on the chapel table with all the others offering to give details about how their loved ones were preserved for viewing. It would be interesting if it somehow gave them comfort tissue/organ donation or general embalming…and perhaps without visual aid some or alot of it may be hard for them to understand. I think even something as simple as raising the carotid may not be good for the faint of heart =<…
Gah i don’t know! Lol…FS has anyone asked your resident embalmer this kind of stuff?
sorry to keep reblogging this, everybody. obviously i could answer this by sending an ask, but i think it’s important to have all parts of the conversation together in one post. i’ll delete the other posts on my blog, but sorry for those that follow me and are seeing this so many times on their dash.
anyways, no! i don’t think the info should be out on a table or told in graphic detail to someone who isn’t asking for it, but i think people have the right to know, and lots of times the information that funeral directors and embalmers give to families is obscured, misleading, or flat-out refused to families who ask in an attempt to protect people who we think “can’t handle it.” what gives us, the people in the funeral industry, the right to judge what people can and can’t handle emotionally?
yes, i absolutely agree that it depends on the individual in terms of what they need to grieve. for instance, there was one woman whose mother passed away years ago, and she didn’t want to see the body at the visitation, and everyone, including the funeral director, basically forced her to finally go and look, telling her that she needed the closure, etc etc etc, and she finally did, and she’s regretted it ever since. our firm then took care of her father, and she wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to make her look at him, which we didn’t, and everything went fine. i talked to her recently and she’s still glad that she didn’t.
and then there are people that will want to know every single detail of the embalming process, and many, many funeral homes will not give families that kind of information because of old-school ways of thinking, and that’s something that i think needs to change, because it’s a perfectly valid way of grieving as well. again, it’s not for everyone, but everyone should still have the right, and that is often refused at many firms.
our embalmers aren’t usually out on the floor during visitation, so they don’t get asked these questions directly, so i’m usually the one who has to answer them, and i usually answer them directly and honestly instead of having to make something up. and just because i’m being honest doesn’t mean i have to be gruesome…i’ve learned to use gentle language while still making it clear as to what i’m talking about, and people appreciate the demystification it seems.
anyways, i’ve gone on long enough and enough times about this, and as callers say on NPR, “I’ll take my comments off the air” on this thread but would continue on asks on my blog