Opinion | Donate your organs and become a tree

By Grace DeLallo, Assistant Opinions Editor

All humans are composed of six chemical elements that make up 99% of our bodies. We come from the Earth and are made of this Earth, so I feel it’s only right we go back into the Earth when we pass. 

As someone who is morbidly curious and perpetually anxious, I’ve often contemplated death’s many facets. Once we die, I believe our souls, the essence of our beings, leaves our bodies and enters some metaphysical realm — whether it’s space in the universe or a designated heaven… I’m not sure, but who is? I just cling to the belief that one day I will recognize those who passed before me and be guided by some sort of familiarity. Holding onto the possibility of existing with those I love in death is comforting, so if I can possibly find solace and beauty in death, I want others on Earth to find that same beauty in my death by giving them what I no longer need — my organs — and give back to what gave me so much — the Earth.

As a 22-year-old in good health with dreams, aspirations and the other clichés people say await the many years ahead of me, it may seem silly to contemplate death to this extent, but to that I say no. It’s not silly. One thing that unites us in our many diverse experiences is that we are all born and we all die. Simple as that. And as terrible as it is to acknowledge, no one knows exactly when they’re going to die. So, even though I am healthy and full of life, I know a number of things could change that. As such, I have made it abundantly clear to my family what I want done with my body after I die so I can be honored the way I believe best. 

It starts one day with my mom pulling into a gas station, and when she pulled her cards out to pay, I saw the marking on the bottom right corner of her driver’s license that read “ORGAN DONOR.” I proceeded to ask her what organs she had donated, to which she laughed and explained what an organ donor actually is. I chuckled embarrassedly, but from that point on I knew I wanted my organs donated. As I got older and eventually earned my own license, I became increasingly proud of this option and couldn’t understand why anyone would opt not to donate. 

Although organ and tissue donation is a common practice, with 169 million registered donors as of 2021 and 90% of adults supporting it, only 60% of eligible people are registered. Between 17 and 20 people die every day waiting for organs in the U.S. that seldom match, while more than 100,000 people wait on a transplant list. Every person who donates has the opportunity to save the lives of eight people and improve the lives of dozens more, so when the time comes for our time on Earth to pass, why should we not reward others with the gift of life in our death? 

I think those who aren’t donors are scared of what happens to their body and what it will look like for their family after their organs, tissue and eyeballs are removed, but medical professionals make it so your body looks as untouched as possible. Mayo Clinic says organ and tissue donation doesn’t interfere with having an open-casket funeral since there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation when the body is dressed for viewing. The clinic also asserts that donation is in line with most major religions, does not have additional costs and most individuals can donate regardless of their age. And most illnesses or health conditions do not impact your ability to donate, either.

Overcoming your fears can save lives, so be brave and benevolent with a priceless gift. Register to be a donor today

Another way we can give back in death is by exploring a tree pod burial. For the more traditional crowd, this option definitely sounds like some hippie garbage — but hear me out. Although burial pods are independently regulated by each state and zoning laws and regulations exist, according to BioUrn, tree pods can be planted on private property with the owner’s consent. There is even a green burial directory that provides you with the necessary information for a proper burial. 

Tree pod burials place the unaltered or cremated body in a compostable pod or urn rather than a casket. Seeds are placed with the body, nourishing and fertilizing them and providing adequate conditions for a tree to grow. And although people buried in caskets also go into the Earth and decompose, the way their bodies are prepared and buried is not suitable for growing organic plants. Most modern caskets have wood that is heavily treated with chemicals and traditional funeral preparation involves embalming the body. Embalming is what maintains the physical integrity of the person for viewing by taking a formaldehyde concoction and injecting it into the body’s arteries and cavities to dramatically slow the rate of decomposition, effectively poisoning the flesh which is released as tissue breaks down. This doesn’t create adequate conditions for a tree to grow. 

And all of this is not to say that morticians’ and funeral directors’ efforts are in vain. I’ve witnessed firsthand the tenderness and compassion that these people provide grieving families with and the acknowledgment that it’s an honor to assist in the process. And depending whether the body experienced trauma before death, morticians give families a chance to say goodbye to the person in the form they knew them in. Funerals and these processes can help provide people with closure and are very symbolic. But the average cost for a funeral and burial cost is $8,000 and funeral and cremation is $7,000. This is a terrible burden to shoulder, especially if someone dies unexpectedly. 

On the other hand, green burial plots can range from $500 to $5,000. You can purchase a biodegradable coffin or shroud — or even make your own — allowing you to better regulate the cost. Or you can opt for a burial in a conservation cemetery which ranges between $1,000 and $4,000, making it more affordable than a casket burial. 

Regardless of what you want done to your body after death, consider giving back to those who need what you can no longer use and imagine a world in which our bodies give back to the land that has given us so much. There are incredible benefits when donating your organs and opting for a green burial, but whatever happens, death does not define us. The legacy of our lives will surpass our breaths, so above all, be kind and show empathy. 

Grace DeLallo writes about life, death and everything in between. Write to her at [email protected].