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Recycling your pacemaker

—Reprinted with the kind permission of Funeral Consumers Alliance of Arizona

Many of us have worn out some body parts and have medical devices implanted. What happens to these when we die?

First, it is illegal to recycle a medical device for human use in the United Staes, but overseas is a different matter. Each year 1-2 million individuals worldwide die due to a lack of pacemakers and defibrillators.

If you have decided to have a traditional burial, all your parts go in the ground with you. If you have a pacemaker, the funeral home can remove (for a very nominal fee) and donate it per your instruction.

If you have decided on cremation, the pacemaker must be removed (again for a nominal fee) by the funeral home. Other parts (such as knee replacements etc.) remain with the body during cremation and are disposed of by the crematorium either as recyclable metal, a biohazard, or perhaps burial in a commingled place.

It is legal to donate a pacemaker, either through pre-death or post-death direction by family members. The funeral home, after a device is removed pre cremation (absent any family direction), can unilaterally donate (or otherwise dispose of) the device because the funeral home has control of (owns) the device. The funeral home could, but is not required, talk to the family to get agreement to donate. Why is this not required? Because the device is not inheritable so it has no value for the family.

So, how can you make use of your pacemaker to help another ? First, discuss this with your family and tell them your desires. Then :

The University of Michigan (UofM) Cardiovascular Medicine directs My Heart to Your Heart—a program that provides recycled pacemakers overseas ( currently including Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines, Venezuela, Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador, India) at no cost to the donors and little or no cost to recipients.

All the physicians waive all of their fees. Some devices are implanted by local surgeons or cardiologists, others are implanted by cardiologists from the U.S. traveling abroad for missions. Currently all patients receive a free brand new donated lead.

The program’s web page also contains a legal consent form (which is for your own use only, it is not returned to UofM).

This page also contains a link to request a pre paid return mailer to UofM for the device. This form requests Funeral Home information but an individual simply fills in his/her name in place of the funeral home. Allow 2/3 weeks for delivery so you may wish to request well in advance (during your preplanning). When eventually mailing the device, be sure postage rates have not increased from the prepaid amount

In lieu of the mailer, shipments can be made directly to:

World Medical Relief
c/o My Heart Your Heart
Attn: Eric Puroll
21725 Melrose Ave
Southfield, MI 48075

Any unusable devices are returned to a medical recycling company.