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Huntsman Cancer Institute Legacy to Life Rapid Autopsy and Tissue Donation Program

Many patients want to help with cancer research. Cancer patients are not eligible for traditional organ donation after death, but they can donate certain tissues for cancer research. These types of donations can help future cancer patients.

Tissue donation happens through an autopsy. This is called a legacy gift to research. A tissue donation autopsy differs from a regular autopsy in that tissue donation must occur very soon after death. This keeps the samples in the form researchers need. This type of autopsy is called a rapid autopsy.

Huntsman Cancer Institute offers a rapid autopsy and tissue donation program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone take part?

Patients who are located within a certain distance of the hospital can take part. This is because the tissue donation must be done quickly after death.

What if death does not occur in the hospital? Who makes arrangements for the rapid autopsy?

Many cancer patients who are nearing the end of life are on home hospice care. Our program works with the hospice provider and with a funeral home. The funeral home will be on call to move the body to the hospital shortly after death. We do everything we can so the family doesn’t have to take extra steps.

How quickly does the autopsy need to take place?

Tissues need to be collected within six hours of death. The family can spend a limited time with their loved one while they wait for the funeral home staff. The funeral home staff will then take the body to the hospital for the autopsy.

Will the autopsy interfere with the funeral?

A complete autopsy does not interfere with a viewing or funeral preparations. The rapid autopsy happens within a few hours. After the autopsy, the body is taken to the funeral home of choice.

Are tissues collected from the entire body?

We collect the tissues most relevant to the disease. We may also collect some healthy tissue samples. You can choose between a complete autopsy or a limited autopsy. Complete means any tissue can be collected. Limited means certain tissues are not collected. You tell us which tissues not to collect in the autopsy authorization document.

Who performs the autopsy and where does it take place?

A licensed medical professional who has special training does the autopsy. Our research department staff also help. The autopsy happens in a post-mortem exam room at University Hospital.

Is there a cost to participate?

The program pays for the autopsy and all costs to take the body to and from the hospital. The family pays for funeral or cremation costs after the autopsy.

How do I enroll?

The person who wants to take part in the rapid autopsy program must fill out these consent forms:

  1. The first consent, signed by the patient, allows for access to de-identified medical records. De-identified medical records include information about the patient’s disease and treatment. They do not include identifying information such as name and date of birth.
  2. The second consent authorizes our program to begin autopsy arrangements.
  3. The third consent is the authorization for autopsy. This can be signed by the patient before death or by next-of-kin after death.

All these consents can be revoked at any time if you change your mind.

What about COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a concern for health care providers who perform any medical procedure, including autopsies. Currently, autopsies are allowed if the patient has tested negative for SARS-CoV2 within two weeks of death and has no symptoms. The program pays for SARS-CoV2 testing.

When is the best time to decide whether to participate?

The patient can decide whether to take part in a legacy gift program. The patient can also talk about the program with their family. It is best to have these conversations before the patient is close to death. This allows time for arrangements to be made and questions answered.

Cases can also be performed for patients in the hospital whose families had not considered participation in the program until late in the disease course, but rapid autopsy arrangements must still be made before death.

How can I learn more about the Legacy to Life program?

Call us at 801-646-4386 or submit our Legacy to Life contact form.