When a client of mine came in a few years ago to draw up a living will, he was coming to see me because he knew he was dying.   I asked him routinely, as we went through the forms, whether he wanted to discuss organ donation since the forms are part of the packet of forms collectively referred to as “Advanced Directives.”

It proved to be the last time I would hear him laugh out loud.  “None of mine are working!” he said.  “What do I have that they might want?”

He had a point.  Actually, he had maybe half of a point, out of four.  No, I’m sure nobody wanted his lungs or the other parts that were failing for transplant; but he had plenty of other body parts that might save or affect someone’s life:  corneas for the sight impaired and skin for burn victims, for example.  So on this issue, I’ll give him half a point.

But there are three other ways a physical body might help others that my friend wasn’t considering.  Bone marrow might be useful in providing therapy, for example.  He suffered from a rare pulmonary condition, so even his failing organs might prove useful for research purposes, so that in the future others might not need to suffer his fate.  And of course, medical schools are always looking for cadavers for educational purposes — not a pleasant thing to think about for most, but certainly preferable to Victorian times, when medical students procured corpses from shady characters, no questions asked.

The Ohio Legislature has been slow to adapt a reasonable approach to the issue of organ donation. Unfortunately, pro-life factions of our legislature appear to have used organ donation as a means of making living wills so distasteful that people would rather avoid the forms altogether and “choose life.”  However, in 2009 the General Assembly adopted the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which clarified matters significantly, and the latest incarnation of the Ohio State Bar Association’s Advanced Directives Forms incorporate many improvements in the law.  Now, a standardized form is used in which a person may indicate what body parts they want to give and for what purpose, whether it be for transplant, therapy, research or education, or a combination of these uses.

This raises another important issue, which came to my attention last week when a client of mine indicated that our local BMV did not have her fill out the new forms when she had her license renewed. She was justifiably concerned:  what, if anything, does it mean to have an “organ donor” sticker on your drivers’ licence if you never filled out one of these forms?

Fortunately, the law does not leave such an important issue up to our BMV.  O.R.C. 2108.11(F) provides that if you specify only that you want to be an “organ donor” without saying anything more, your body parts may only be used for transportation or therapy.  If, however, you want to allow your body to be used for research or education, you need to fill out the new forms.  It is good to know that a simple nod when you renew your drivers’ license can’t result in your body being on display in a first year medical school class!

Advanced directives are important, so don’t let the organ donation issue stop you from signing one.  That page is optional, and I always ask clients if they want to discuss the issue before they even see the form.