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February 21, 2019

G-Spot: Be useful in death: Donate your body your organs to help others

A grave digger works on the temporary side of the Langata cemetery
A grave digger works on the temporary side of the Langata cemetery

In Kenya, we seem to hope that if we don’t mention death or think about it, it won’t happen. This is probably why so few people, rich or poor, write wills or make proper provision for their families in the event of their not being around.

In some communities, for instance, some people fervently believe that preparing for death by writing a will is to hasten the onset of death. 

That said, I am sure there are those who wait vulture-like for the death of wealthy parents or spouses, and may even give death a bit of nudge in the right direction when there is great wealth and property at stake. It’s an awful thing, but it happens.

When people die, much is made of their goodness and all the wonderful things they did while they were living, that left the world a better place. That’s all very well and good, but I have always believed there was more that people could do to make the world a better place, even in death.

I grew up literally a stone’s throw away from the University of Nairobi’s Department of Human Anatomy. My boyhood friends and I would climb up on the ledge outside and peep into the room, where students were carving up cadavers in their study of the human body. I was fascinated by this but always wanted to know where the bodies they worked on came from.

Some years later when I began working on a newspaper, a freelance colleague took her own life and in her suicide note left instructions that her body should not be buried, but should be donated to the university to assist students in their studies. Her family decided to abide by her wishes, and I even wrote a news feature at the time about donating one’s body to science in the hope of showing readers that burial was not the only way to go, when one went.

Of course there are those who might be squeamish about this sort of thing and would prefer to have the bodies of their loved ones buried in a grave that can be visited and memorialised. And I get that, but there are still ways to die and be helpful to humanity.

I was glad to see that last year, in the midst of all the politicking ahead of the election, Kenyan MPs found time to act like the decent people they are meant to be and finally passed a law making organ donation easier.

Not being in Kenya, I don’t know whether there has been an increase in organ donation or the campaigns, if any, being used to encourage it. I know that in the UK when one applied for a provisional driving licence, there was the option to apply for an organ donor card, which was to be carried in the wallet. In the event of death, it would be useful to medics, who could harvest the stipulated organs before letting the family have the body for burial or cremation.

It’s something to think about and may even get more people making their wills.

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