A funeral director serving the Amish in Lancaster County says that Amish rarely donate organs.
But the law still requires that the bodies of the deceased be held “until an organ procurement organization reviews the case and releases the body.”
This hold-up frequently causes distress to Amish families who wish to proceed with traditional viewing and funeral preparations, according to Philip W. Furman.
Furman’s family’s funeral home has served the Amish for close to seven decades.
In a recent article at Penn Live, he explains that the responsible organization in Lancaster County, Gift of Life, is the gatekeeper when it comes to the Amish receiving their loved ones’ bodies:
“They are allowed to hold the body hostage until the family says ‘no’ or Gift of Life determines the body is not eligible to donate,” Furman said of the state and federal hospital notification laws giving power over the dead to organ donation organizations.
With skin, bone, ligaments and other tissue able to be recovered up to 24 hours after death, the delays can mount even further if a family agrees to donate, which the Amish rarely do, Furman added.
“I have to tell them, ‘You have to call Gift of Life’,” said Furman, noting that even a delay of six to eight hours can anger the Amish by disrupting their death rituals.
How many Amish has Furman seen donate organs over the years? Almost none. Out of roughly 1,500 instances, he has seen precisely two donate.
Going by those numbers, you can conclude that organ donation is simply something the Amish do not do. Why is that the case?
I believe this may come from the Scriptural belief that the physical (“mortal”) bodies of Christians will be one day resurrected (see passages such as Romans 8:11). If so, that would also probably figure into why you don’t see Amish cremations.
Gift of Life presents a different picture than Furman.
However, the statement they share is vague and doesn’t offer any specific details indicating that Amish directly participate in organ donation:
“Gift of Life works closely with our hospital partners to provide families with the opportunity for organ donation. It is our experience that the Amish are supportive of organ donation and that they regard donation as a final act of generosity to support the health and welfare of transplant recipients. Gift of Life carefully and compassionately guides each family through the donation process, and as part of that process, ensures that donation is compatible with religious burial timing requirements. Most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as the ultimate act of love and generosity toward others.”
It sounds like this situation can be quite upsetting for Amish families, and you can understand why. Here’s Furman again:
When this mourning period is prolonged unnecessarily by the legal requirements of organ donation, grieving Amish can be stirred to anger. Often it is vented at the funeral director, Furman said. That’s when he explains about the organ donation hold and the need for the family to contact Gift of Life.
“They don’t like delays,” Furman said of the grieving Amish. “Initially, they are mad at me. They think I am dropping the ball.”
Under state law, Furman said he cannot make any comments that would sway the family against donation.
“It’s a very delicate conversation,” Furman said of his comments to grieving Amish families about organ donation. “I am not allowed to the coach the family. I can’t give a recommendation to the family as to whether they should or should not donate.”
Delays can be compounded by the fact that Amish, who don’t carry around phones like non-Amish do, can be more difficult to reach.
Furman goes on to share more on his role, including what happens after the body is released:
Only after a body is released by the organ donation organization can Furman pick up the remains and perform the embalming. Afterward, he dresses the body in long underwear for modesty, then delivers the deceased to the Amish home in a plain coffin.
“The coffin is in a room, with a lamp,” he said. “Everything else stripped from the room. I open the coffin and answer any questions.”
Then, the family takes over.
They dress the body in specially made white garments. They lay it out inside the home. Then they host a steady stream of extended family, friends and fellow church parishioners who come to call and pay respects.
“Viewing is continuous,” said Furman, who normally doesn’t attend, affording the family its privacy. “Anyone can stop by from 8 in the morning ’til 9 at night.”
I would imagine that given how tightly-knit the Amish community is, word of this roadblock would get around.
But going by what Furman shares, loved ones of deceased Amish people are still surprised to find out they need to clear things with the procurement organization first. And that can make a difficult time more difficult.
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A straightforward reading of this article implies that Ohio law provides for organ donation by default unless next of kin decline. My Ohio relatives will be surprised. A quick Google search did not confirm or deny this for me. Perhaps another reader will enlighten us?
Don’t think that Ohio law applies here — we’d have heard if Lancaster County had left Pennsylvania, seems to me, but I might have missed it.
We lost a granddaughter who was on the other end of this. A week after going on the heart transplant list, waiting for a donor heart, her 14 year old heart gave out. We couldn’t pray for a donor, because we would have been praying for someone else to die so she could live. We don’t have mandatory donor programs, but almost wish we did.
We believe we will be given new bodies at the resurrection so it will make no difference if the heart or some other organ continues on in another body for some time. Our concern is for the soul, not the body.
Just more harassment!
Leave it up to the politicians to come up with idiotic laws that no one wants! There was a time, decades ago, when people who couldn’t afford burials and were willing to “donate” their loved ones’ bodies to teaching hospitals for free, thus eliminating the burden of having to pay for funeral expenses. There are still teaching hospitals which accept body donations. However those making the donations must go through many hoops because of lots of restrictions. And, most of these restrictions must be met by “Gift of Life” also. All of these restrictions take time and time is of the essence when it comes to treating the dead in a proper manner. Gift of Life receives so few donations – 0.0003% – that a burden is placed on those who count the most: the survivors who must deal with funeral arrangements for those who have “passed on.” It is time that the state of Ohio enter the 21st century and repeal a law which is a great burden for everybody! Wake up Ohio!
Just more harassment
I must admit, I was amused to learn that my body won’t be accepted by the local Anatomical Board (might be called something else where you live — the organization that sorts out which cadavers go to which teaching institutions) — Why?, I asked. “Because you’re too tall to fit into our formalin tanks,” the woman on the other end of the line told me.
Can’t buy off the rack, can’t fit in the tank, and SO MUCH MORE. Too dang tall. On the other hand, once I went over 6’4″ my brothers stopped trying to beat me up. So it’s not all been bad. I wonder, though, if I’ll need an extra-large, extra-expensive urn? One final downside…
Nor are mandatory “ask the survivors” laws all bad. Osiah, above, has shared with us how members of his church see transplantation. My feeling is, Give to get. The Amish accept donated organs, and perhaps should open themselves to donating organs. To be asked, May we?, will surprise fewer folks, Amish or “English”, as news of the law travels within Pennsylvania. (Again … **cough** … probably not Ohio.) In the shock of the moment, one forgets that donation is possible. So a gentle reminder — You can help something good come out of this — doesn’t seem that bad an idea to me.
A simple fix...
The government, in general, responds best to special interest groups. While I’m not pretending to be familiar with this specific situation, I’d agree it sounds like a “pro organ donation” group managed to get some laws passed that, as another commenter suggested make organ donation the default.
Here in Maine (and the few states I’m familiar with) organ donation is an “opt-in” process. In the absence of identifying yourself as an organ donor, you’re not. That makes sense to me–it’s a personal choice. I carry an organ donor card and am so identified on my driver’s license.
If a state wanted to take away that choice (which it sounds like has happened), perhaps a simple fix would be to create a “non-organ donor” card that would allow the funeral director to bypass what seems to be a rather silly system. It would be a different situation if the person who died wanted to donate but his Amish Community tried to prevent it.
My brother took his own life–he was an organ donor and his blood-alcohol level was so high, they had to keep him “alive” for nearly 24 hours until it dropped to an acceptable level. That was an extremely difficult 24 hours for our family but in the end, we were glad to ultimately hear of his gifts to others. Death is always difficult. We really do not need laws that make it more so and attempt to remove the rights of the deceased and those left behind.
Mr Boomsma : Organ donation is not the default
To be ASKED is the default.
By the way, this funeral director — “It’s a very delicate conversation,” Furman said of his comments to grieving Amish families about organ donation. “I am not allowed to the coach the family. I can’t give a recommendation to the family as to whether they should or should not donate.”
Then he talks about “holding the body hostage”. Sounds like he’s got an opinion, and that is that not being able to move ahead with washing and embalming is a pain in the be you double T, gets in the way of his workflow.
There may be a bigger picture, Mr Funeral Director. Stand back and think of your situation should you or someone you love one day need an organ.
Opting in or out of donations
Are the adults required to carry any type of state recognized ID? If this has come up before I’m afraid I didn’t see the article. If so, as on our CDL’s they should be able to enter their permission or denial for organ donation. These days you’d think when someone was admitted to the hospital they would be asked, just as they are asked if they will permit CPR and what level of life support they want should something go wrong, if they would also allow donation of usable organs and that should be an end to it. If it’s a child the parents would be answering those questions and signing those forms.
And to another who made the comment that Amish accept organs so should donate them: Reading another site they mention that ‘while alive’…they will donate kidneys, bone marrow, blood, etc. … and receive the same. But they will not donate after death or accept anything ‘harvested’ after death. (Don’t know how it works if the donor body is kept on life support while the organs are being removed) Can anyone confirm this?
Opting in or out of donations
My understanding is — your wishes regarding whether you are or are not to be a donor are all very well, but it’s your survivors, your next-of-kin, who make the decision and who sign the paperwork. (Parents signing for their deceased children, spouses for spouses, children for parents. And so on.) Your advance directive ? You’re dead. You have no more say. So a record of your preference on admission would be a box nice to have ticked in that it got you thinking about What Will Become Of Me but without legal relevance.
For interest only: I worked, as a visitor, on an autopsy service in East Germany when it was still East Germany. There when you entered the hospital you gave permission to be autopsied should you die in-house. Surprised me, coming from a different medicolegal background. — After West German law superseded East German law, there was no more of that. The next-of-kin had to be asked after the death and permission given.
Mandatory donor programs? Wow! What’s next? In China there are forced organ harvesting, where people are killed to save the rich. This is upsetting.
My brother was in a car accident and before he did the doctors were pressuring us to allow his organs to be donated because he was so young and healthy. We just wanted them to try harder to save him. There’s a possibility of a conflict of interest.
Some Amish may choose to give and receive organs, but that should’t require all to do so or have a waiting period. The body is sacred to them and the property of the family. It should always be in their control.
"Mandatory donor programs" -- erm, not so much
I read the post as saying “Mandatory ask-if-the-survivors-want-to-donate-organs programs”. Different from “mandatory donor programs”. Or?
Options, the definition is choices...
Yes, it may be the survivors that sign all the paperwork for the hospital, police, state, funeral home, etc. but, as experience working in the health care field for coming on fifty years now has shown me, if your wishes are written down and signed by you it takes a great weight of decision making guilt off the family member who is tasked with saying all those yeses and no’s after you are no longer able to do the duty. Those papers also give the whole family a chance to talk about it so they understand what the wishes are and make it less likely that there will be a ‘battle of the survivors’ after you are gone. It’s sort of like having a will. That can be broken too, if you are determined and think the person who made it was coerced or crazy when they signed it.
For the funeral director: It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t get anyone from the community to speak up on this because he is left looking a little like the bad guy. But…if the body is being held for the ‘procurement’ officers sign off I assume that’s being done at the hospital. Once the okay is given, just like once the death certificate is signed, the home is notified and they go out and pick up the body and get to work. I doubt the regulation disrupts his work flow much. Funeral homes also are used to working with the family and will hold a body for a considerable amount of time as it may be needed to assemble those who will attend the services. Unless all his cold drawers are full, again, he’s got room to delay so a hold up at the hospital isn’t going to hurt him.
I read the original article which had a little bit more to say about the funeral practices. AS soon as the person dies the mourning period starts. The family wants the body home where it belongs as soon as possible because they have things they need and want to do for them. There are viewings and gatherings before the funeral, and then the service itself. It’s only after the funeral things can go back to normal, or the new normal, for that family. It seems these regulations are only delaying the ‘survivors’ ability to get back to that ‘normal’. And, if the funeral director’s estimate as to the number of those special clients who will donate is to be believed, the delay is based on the possibility that one percent of that particular cultural group will say ‘yes’ when asked if they want to donate their loved ones organs.
A few more facts...
Since at least one comment was directed at me, let me clarify several points and provide a few “facts.”
I am not opposed to organ donation–I am an organ donor. I AM opposed to government regulation which does not honor and respect an individual’s right of choice. As I attempted to state earlier, balancing individual freedom with functioning as a society is a never-ending discussion and there are no easy answers. The discussions become even more difficult when we are dealing with groups such as the Amish that do not seem to “fit” in what we collectively define as “today’s society.” We consistently reprove our inability to tolerate diversity.
After a little further research, I am shocked to learn (according to the Give of Life website) that next of kin may “undo” a deceased’s choice not to be an organ donor. This raises another question. If an individual registers as an organ donor, can the next of kin “undo” that decision? If the answer isn’t “yes,” we headed in the direction of default organ donation. It’s not far from default to mandatory.
What follows is a direct quote from the Gift of Life website: “If the circumstances surrounding the patient’s death indicate they may be able to be a donor, a Gift of Life transplant coordinator meets with family. The coordinator offers support to the patient’s family or next of kin and engages the family in a donation conversation that provides them with full information on the power, meaning and life-transforming nature of the donation decision, shares questions that other families of potential donors commonly ask, and answers any questions the family may have about any aspect of this process.
In cases where the patient is a registered donor, the coordinator counsels the family on the process of organ recovery. If a patient has not previously given authorization for donation, the patient’s next-of-kin must authorize to the donation. The transplant coordinator explains to the family the life-saving opportunities of organ and tissue donation and answers their questions. Once the family authorizes donation, the coordinator begins the important work of coordinating the donation process.”
While this doesn’t clarify the legalities, it is clear that the Gift of Life folks are going to attempt to convince the next of kin to donate regardless of the deceased’s wishes since it’s consistent with their stated mission. It would also not surprise me to learn they have lobbied for the legal obligation to have that discussion. If you support organ donation, that may not trouble you but we ought to be concerned about how far we take this in view of the fact not everyone shares our thinking.
It is not such a mystery to me that the Amish want little to do with our legal system.
Next of kin can, and do, decline donation for which the patient signed up
Don’t worry QUITE so much, Mr Boomsma. Over-riding of wishes of the deceased happens in both directions. How do I know? Twenty years’ working on various liver-transplantation teams.
Thank you, Mr. Boosma. You made some good points. Though over-riding can happen both ways, it makes sense it usually would in ways that benefit the medical field (and other interested parties), unjustly infringing on the rights of others, including the Amish.
And there we have it, folks -- "it makes sense"
Sense on which planet?
“It usually would”. Numerical data? None. Paranoid fantasy? Bucketloads — “…benefit the medical field (and other interested parties)”.
How does organ donation “benefit the medical field”? A liver, a heart donated — those donations benefit PATIENTS. Writing as someone who’s been called out of bed more often than he cares to remember because a transplant was going to happen and I needed to go back to the hospital, let me ask you, Ms Berkey — do you want my attitude to be “Let ’em die” or “Sure, I’ll be right there”? Frankly, I’d rather have stayed in bed. I didn’t get paid any more for being available. But, dagnabbit, PATIENTS NEEDED ME. When I went into medicine, I vowed to put patients ahead of myself.
That’s not a mind-set that you can understand, it seems. My pity goes out to you.
You’ve identified what I see as the overriding concern here. No matter how well-intended or positive a group’s purpose, we need to be very concerned when the rights of others are sacrificed (interfered with) in the pursuit of their purpose. Since this is also a forum primarily about the Amish, I would note that the Amish have very little interest in ruling the rest of the world and telling us non-Amish what we can do and not do. We might do well to return the favor.
You'll have to turn a great deal of law upside down
The dead have no rights. The rights of the living expire with their lives. The estate is not the person who relinquished it at death.
Hard to conceive of, perhaps. But that’s how things are defined.
Alex, good for you in serving people; Thank You! It is a mentality I can understand. Service doesn’t entitle a person to infringe on the rights of others though.
I didn’t propose the dead have rights, but that their families do. The medical field benefits by cold hard cash (even if you don’t take any), and power, like getting away with holding the body of a deceased person when they really have no right to do so.
Walter, I agree wholeheartedly and Thank You!
Walter, I agree wholeheartedly and Thank You!
Mr. Knisely, you probably weren’t compensated more because you were already were being paid plenty. Lot’s of jobs are that way, except some don’t get paid nearly enough. I’ve been a wife and mother for for decades, serving in the middle of the night when I’d rather not, and I didn’t get paid at all. Service doesn’t entitle anyone to infringe on the rights of others.
I didn’t bring up the rights of the dead, but the rights of their families.
You may not want to admit it, but those in the medical field are subject to greed and abuse. They do benefit by huge amounts of money and power. Withholding the body of a loved one is only one example of an abuse of power. The first step to curbing any weakness or injustice is admitting it.
The world of Blake's pebble
A lot to unpack, Ms Berkey. The clod and the pebble — here are the last four lines of William Blake’s poem, in which the pebble sings.
“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”
Our worlds don’t often intersect, it would seem. They’ve met at this website. They’ll meet again, I suppose, should you ever require health care.
I’m glad only to visit yours rarely. It strikes me as that of the pebble, transactional, suspicious, and crabbed — where I wrote “I didn’t get paid any more for being available”, you saw “Mr. Knisely, you probably weren’t compensated more because you were already were being paid plenty”. **sigh** That’s an inference by someone who’s determined to see the disciplines of health care, and those who practise them, in the most unfavourable light possible. Doctors and nurses may ascribe to themselves benevolence. Even love. Love? No. Or, if love, the love of which Blake’s pebble spoke. If a nurse is doing it, if a doctor is doing it, IT’S FOR A DIRTY REASON.
Let me turn that around for you.
“You may not want to admit it, but those who become parents often act for reasons of greed and abuse. They benefit psychologically by wielding huge amounts of power over their children. The slogan ‘Because I’m the mommy, that’s why’ sums up this attitude — it teaches the victims of abuse that behind the actions of the powerful is no rationale, no “why”; only blind power and the pleasure taken in wielding it.”
Now isn’t that one heck of a perspective from which to view decades spent as a wife and mother? But just watch women as they drag their sobbing tots through WalMart aisles — those grim faces of women revenging themselves on their problem-causing children. Because they’re the mommies. That’s why. Building a Hell in Heaven’s despite.
“The first step to curbing any weakness or injustice is admitting it.” The second step, working to stop it, the third, working to undo its effects… Decades as a wife and mother. Decades of pebble “love”. Ms Berkey, that third step: Have you really put enough money into your children’s therapy funds ?
Saddest perhaps is that when someone with this mind-set, the pebble’s mind-set, is brought to an emergency room, when someone enters a hospital, she or he will find what she or he wants to find, will see what he or she wants to see. Health-care providers will do their best for that someone, even though for him or her it will be only power seeking more power. Such a shame.
You’re revealing more about who you think you are than who you think I am.
A doctor died and went to heaven. When he got to the pearly gates, he found a long line. He went to the front and told Saint Peter that since he was a doctor he should be allowed to bypass the line and go right in. St. Peter replied, “Up here, everyone is equal. Go to the end of the line and wait your turn.” The doctor grumbled but did so. After a while, he saw someone with a white smock and stethoscope walk right past the line and straight in. The doctor ran right back to Saint Peter and said, “Hey, why did you let that doctor right in and not me?” Saint Peter replied, “That’s not a doctor; that’s God playing Doctor.”
Good one, Stephanie...
You reminded me of an experience years ago… long back story, but I was attending a medical convention and having a conversation with a doctor’s wife. She suddenly stopped talking and gazed about the convention center. I asked if she was okay and she replied, “I was just trying to conceive of the amount of ego filling this huge room…it’s incomprehensible.” One of the better doctors I know explained (justified?) a high level of confidence is required when dealing with life and death situations. I replied that I understood but that human beings are perfectly imperfect and so are the systems we develop. I suspect that this applies to the Amish way of thinking which values humility. We are capable of creating great things but equally capable of creating disaster and havoc. The Amish seem to understand that and have a clear value system that doesn’t adopt change for change’s sake.
Confidence can be a great strength. That and the knowledge and skill required is awesome when accompanied with humility and respect. That’s what can convey love which may be behind it.
If God plays doctor, does that mean he also gives you the disease and illness?
If God created all, than the answer can be yes.
The Bible makes it clear. You are to value wisdom. Value knowledge. Value hard work.
This is why we value those who are in the medical community. The doctors. The nurses. Those who create life saving drugs so a mother can watch her young child grow up.
Just as a Amish farmer works hard to till the land…just as a Amish carpenter works hard to build your home, doctors, nurses,others work hard to preserve your life.
God makes it clear. You reap what you sow.
The hard work to accumulate knowledge, skill, wisdom by these men and women in the medical community should be valued. We should be humbled by their years of service to help strangers in such times of need.
That last comment of mine was a joke I heard years ago. I appreciate good medical professionals, and believe many of them are great people. However, things can be manipulated in the field of medicine, similar to politics.
I don’t believe that God makes disease. He made the elements from which all things are created. He gave us freedom to choose what to create, but also commandments and a perfect example in Jesus Christ to love one another.
Mankind creates disease and misery by ignoring these blessings. God prepared plants to remove the cause of disease and seeks to lead us to truth through the Holy Ghost regarding health. He will eventually resurrect us all and take away all disease.
Correction, God did create some disease. Adam and Eve changed after the fall and became susceptible to it by their own choice, but there are also instances in the scriptures where God sent illness. However, God didn’t take away the health of Job, but allowed the devil to, temporarily to try his faith.
Valued, yes... worshipped, no.
I think the point of Stephanie’s story and my comment is not to devalue the wisdom of doctors and nurses but to be reminded that “human beings are perfectly imperfect…” and to perhaps ensure that science and medicine doesn’t become a sacred cow. I have an excellent relationship with my Primary Care Physician based on mutual respect. Valuing wisdom, knowledge and hard work is not a one-way street.
Yes, Walter, exactly. Well said and thank you.
Humans are imperfect.
Some humans that run religious institutions are deeply flawed.
Religious institutions should not be a sacred cow, either.
When we drive a car, do we sit there and let God push the gas pedal? No.
Do we sit at the table waiting for God to feed us? No.
God has told us what to do. WE are to work hard. WE are to learn. WE are to value this wisdom and knowledge and use it appropriately.
I agree wholeheartedly… with one exception, a true prophet of God, one of whom is one on the earth today (he’s also a retired heart surgeon), Russell M. Nelson.
Not that President Nelson is perfect, but that he is led by a perfect God, Jesus Christ.
And only in so much as a prophet is speaking for God, which the Holy Ghost and scriptures confirm as we live worthy of revelation.
Organ donation is a big money business. The donar’s family gets paid nothing for their loved ones organs, but the recipient pays a fortune for the donated organ.
I wonder how much Gift of Life gets paid for each organ they procure? I don’t for one minute believe they are doing it from the goodness of their hearts.
Small wonder they try holding the family hostage to get them to donate the organs. It’s all about the money.