Organ Donors — The Last Gift

cemeteryWhether or not to become an organ donor is something most people will consider in their lifetimes. However, that decision may not always be made before death. At that point, it is left up to the family of the deceased. So, where does your role as a funeral director fit into this? Have you felt that assisting families with the organ donor process was not in your job description? It very well may be your job at some point and it can be as positive or as negative of an experience as you choose.

Some families may feel a sense of relief from their grief by giving someone in need the gift of life. Knowing that their loved-ones continue on in some way can be of great comfort. Providing that comfort in any possible way that you can, is one of your primary roles as a funeral director. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, or uncomfortable, let us take a moment to look at some guidelines and questions your clients may have, as this issue will likely reappear.

How Long To Decide?

When coming to a decision about organ donation, time is crucial. Lengths will vary according to tissues, organs and eyes. However, please remember that it can be extremely difficult to make such a profound decision while dealing with grief. It is important to not place any unnecessary pressure on the family. Inform them of time constraints, but allow for enough space for them to process the situation and their emotions.

Where Will The Donation Occur?

Typically, the recovery of donated organs and tissue is conducted in the operating room of a hospital. Surgery is a process that requires strict sanitary conditions, care and respect carried out by professionals. No less consideration is observed towards the donor than that given to the person receiving the gift.

Who Will Incur The Bill?

By definition, a donation is a gift, not a transaction. There should never be a reason for the family to absorb any costs associated either directly or indirectly to the donation process. Typically, the procurement agency that is involved will cover all costs. If, for any reason, the family receives a bill, instruct them to contact the agency immediately. Usually, this occurrence is a clerical mistake. Reassure your clients not to worry.

Resources For Information

It can be extremely helpful for you and your clients to have ready information available when making organ donor decisions. Often, the family may feel some amount of guilt when discussing this process. Providing them with pamphlets online resources may help to alleviate conflicting emotions, as well as give them time to absorb all available information in private. The United Network For Organ Sharing, or UNOS is an excellent website to start from. There, you can find information ranging from transplant networks to patient education to a vast library and archive.


Often, many procurement agencies will offer some kind of support service to donor families. Simply speaking with someone else who has had a similar experience can be enough to help relieve the mix of pain, loss and guilt associated with being a donor family. Having this resource of support available, can sometimes be reassuring, even if it is never used.


Another important point to discuss with your clients to help ease their grief, is to offer them the opportunity to mention their loved-ones donation in the eulogy, funeral program or obituary. Sharing how this last gift has saved another individual”s life, can be a profound way for them to honor their loved one, comfort the pain of family and friends, that something meaningful can come out of loss.

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