End of life issues are not a popular topic of cocktail conversation. Since losing many loved ones over the past decades and being in my mid 60’s, I am very cognizant my life will eventually end also. It is my desire to donate my body in Costa Rica to the University de Ciencias Medicasb(UCIMED), founded in 1976. This school is known for teaching medicine and recognized as one of the best medical schools in Latin America.
Body donation is a well known but poorly understood concept that few know how to go about. I had enrolled for whole body donation with the local medical school in my home state of Michigan and still maintain the same sentiments in Costa Rica which prompted me to do so in the United States. Please note that protocols change and I am relaying information current as of March 8, 2017.
Recently, my husband and I went to UCIMED and signed the formal documents to complete the donation process. One first schedules an appointment to meet with the UCIMED attorney on the 5th floor of the UCIMED building. The current administrator is not fluent in English, nor are we fluent in Spanish. It is highly recommended that you are accompanied by a trusted and competent Spanish speaker, whom you may also wish to schedule the appointment. It is important that you completely understand the process as explained by the attorney and have any questions answered to your satisfaction. Prior to our appointment, we had sent our personal information such as marital status, type of work, address, passport and/or cedula numbers. A photo was also required for our files. Our paperwork was witnessed by 3 trusted staff members of UCIMED.
Upon our death in a hospital or at home, we are to telephone the administrator or one of the contact numbers we received with our donation card and copy of the document agreement. This donation document is valid only in the country of Costa Rica. At either hospital or home, a physician must issue a death certificate so UCIMED can have your body transported. Without a death certificate, UCIMED cannot and will not retrieve the body. In case of accident, the body will remain in Judicial control until the investigation is complete.
We have shared our decision with family and friends which is of utmost importance to avoid any confusion about our remains. Note that if you have not personally enrolled in this program, your remains cannot be donated. It is your decision and yours alone and must be done by signing the consent form in person. Should you change your mind at any future date, you may come to the office to revoke the agreement. If any organs are usable, they will be harvested for transplant. Hopefully, I may help the blind to see or save the life of a child. After that, the body will be transported to the medical school where it may be used for anatomical examination, education and training, or research.
This entire process is entirely free of cost. According to the US Embassy Bureau of Consular Affairs in Costa Rica, burial without embalming (common in CR) is approximately $800 and with embalming $1,800. Gravesite cost can be $2-4,000. Cremation may cost $1,000, with shipping of the ashes to the US $600. Embalming and airfreight shipment to the US can cost from $2,600-4,000. Please note these figures are estimates.
Since the medical school relies on supply and demand, there is no way to determine how long a body will be in usage. When the time comes that your remains are no longer needed, the body will be buried in a cemetery within a communal burial site. Remains will not be returned to family. There will be no marker, nor are there annual memorials held in memory of the deceased.
If your culture or religion does not prevent you from whole body donation, body donation alleviates the anxiety of loved ones about procedures should you die abroad. Even if you are not a permanent resident but spend many months of the year in Costa Rica, it is possible for you to donate should a catastrophic event occur. Beyond economy, this type of humanitarian gift will be my last act. When my body ceases to serve me, I hope it may serve others to advance scientific knowledge and offer life to those who otherwise may be denied.
Contact for more information:
Lic. Esteban Gil Giron Carvajal, Asesor Legal
Tel: 2549-000 ext. 1170