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Cremation: Medical and Scientific Issues

Consider all issues

When considering or arranging for cremation there are a number of medical and scientific issues that you should be aware of. For the most part, anybody can be cremated as long as there are no legal or religious issues preventing the process.

Organ Donation

It's perfectly fine to choose to donate organs and tissues before undergoing cremation. If you've not made provisions for the donation of organs, it's something you might want to consider. In recent years, the organ and tissue donations have been used in rebuilding facial structures of crash victims (from cadaver bones), skin grafts for burn victims, as well as to provide transplants such as corneas and other organs like heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas. Be sure to state your wishes on the subject of organ donation in writing - it's the only way to fully ensure that your wishes are carried out. The use of an organ donation card, kept in your wallet or purse, is especially helpful.

Prosthetics and Pacemakers

In most cases, pacemakers and external prosthetics are removed prior to cremation. However, artificial joints are not. 

DNA

For future medical and scientific reference, people (like your descendents) may want access to your DNA. This won't be possible if you've been cremated. However, it's also difficult with burial after the body has started to decompose. Some funeral firms and other companies offer DNA retrieval and storage programs. It is interesting that some diseases are known to be affected by DNA. These include: heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as conditions like Alzheimer's, asthma, Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis. 

HIV, Hepatitis, and Other Infectious Diseases

You should inform the funeral home or crematorium of any known infectious diseases before they take possession of the deceased's remains. By law, funeral homes cannot discriminate against people with AIDS (HIV) or other diseases, so they are usually well-practiced in protecting themselves against infection. It is common knowledge that HIV can go undetected and undiagnosed, but what is not well-known is that HIV dies within seconds of exposure to air. On the other hand, the Hepatitis virus can survive for several days in dried blood.

Disease shouldn't prevent you from choosing cremation as a burial option, but you have to be considerate of the people who work in the industry as you may be putting their health at risk.

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