An Enduring Gift
The decision to donate a brain is often based on the goal of giving back. The donor or donor’s family may perceive the donation as a way to give meaning to their loss and help solve the problem of what causes the illness and how it might be prevented or cured.
So what measures should family members use to make a donation decision for someone who’s no longer competent? Bob Arnold, B.A. ’83, M.D. ’83, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and a bioethicist, says family members must consider what their loved ones would have wanted and what would have been meaningful to them. He adds it’s important to consider the person’s religious beliefs and feelings on donation.
To offer a perspective, the brain bank provides a brochure, “Religious Perspectives on Tissue Donation,” to those considering donations. The brochure offers perspectives on tissue donation from religious and spiritual leaders of different faiths. “The question that patients and families must ask is whether they would find meaning in donating,” Arnold says. “Families do find meaning in altruism. It’s a way to let their loved one live in an effort to help society.”
In cases of familial disagreement, it may be more difficult for the donor to make sure her wishes are honored. June Carbone is the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of the Constitution Law and Society at UMKC. She says it’s best if the donor and family agree. “It helps to have a counselor or mediator involved,” she says. “The donor should make sure that the person named as executor or personal representative agrees with the plans and will try to implement them.”
Arnold says potential donors should discuss their wishes with their families. “It’s great that patients want to donate,” he says. “On the other hand, many people care about their families. And if there are going to be disagreements, it’s better if those disagreements occur with the patient.”
If you have questions about the brain bank or about becoming a donor, call the UMKC Brain Tissue Bank at 816-512-7445.