Several factors determine whether a COVID patient who dies can donate body

Posted at 10:27 AM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 12:27:08-04

Last month, MTN News brought you one family's frustrations after learning their beloved brother’s last wishes would not be granted.

Siblings of Carl Stukey, Jr. say they were left without answers after their brother passed from Covid-19 related complications. They said Carl and his wife had made arrangements to have his body donated to the Montana Body Donation Program in Bozeman, but his last wish went unfulfilled and Carl was cremated in August.

His siblings say they were left wondering why his body wasn't accepted into the program.

Makenzie Fry, Program Coordinator for the Montana Body Donation Program, told MTN News they are accepting Covid-19 body donations. But she told us the time frame to embalm a donor is crucial and played a role in why Carl's body was not accepted. “The funeral home wasn’t able to do the embalming within the appropriate time that we needed,” said Fry.

She said embalming fluid deactivates the virus and must be done on the body 12 hours after death or as soon as possible; the procedure is performed a second time on donor bodies at the Montana Body Donation lab. Along with timing, weight and space restrictions also impact whether a body is accepted.

O'Connor Funeral Home director Todd Carmichael said it’s up to families to communicate last wishes to them. In this case, they received Carl’s request too late to schedule employees who could perform the procedure, which must be done twelve hours after a person passes.

He said the 12-hour time frame doesn’t allow for last minute requests, while prioritizing employees' health. "We didn't know that that was his wish until we had sent staffing home for the night,” he said. “So anybody that's got a weakened immune system-we're not gonna want to put them in any kind of a place where there could be possible exposure to the Covid 19 virus."

Carmichael says the funeral home has already seen bodies that have tested positive for Covid-19.

He said they are better able to fulfill last requests like body donations when they are given enough time to plan ahead.