A few hours after Ann Arbor child care worker Jan Kirk died of breast cancer, her daughter, Jennifer Kirk, and a close friend drove to Nie Funeral Home, which had transported Jan’s body to the University of Michigan Medical Center. Jan, a U-M social work grad, had asked that her body be donated to the university. Jennifer says she’d hoped to both advance medical research and spare her family the expense of a funeral.

So when the funeral home handed the two grief-stricken women a bill for more than $1,000, Jennifer says, they were stunned–but “blindly handed over a credit card without questioning.”

It turns out even donating your body is expensive in Ann Arbor–Muehlig Funeral Chapel’s charges are essentially the same as Nie’s. Jennifer had read the U-M’s lengthy list of requirements for anatomical donations, which state that the university does not cover the cost of delivering the body. But, she emails, there was no hint of “the exorbitant cost of transportation.”

The Wayne State and Michigan State medical schools also accept cadavers, but, unlike the U-M, they don’t charge a delivery fee for local donors. (They do charge for pickups from longer distances, so they’re not a cost-saving option for Ann Arborites.) U-M spokeswoman Kara Gavin emails that the program is set up so that donors “support the cost of transportation, and because this is spelled out clearly … we would hope that prospective donors would discuss this with their loved ones and plan ahead …”

Jennifer Kirk says her mother appreciated the good care she received from U-M medical staff. (She also has praise for Nie.) “But I do feel she would be disappointed knowing we incurred this unexpected cost,” she writes. Kirk hopes that “others who make the decision to give this precious anatomical gift can learn from our experiences.”

Donation Solution

To the Observer:

I was saddened to read of the experiences of the Kirk family in regard to the donation of Jan Kirk’s body to the U-M Medical Center [“Expensive Donation,” Up Front, January]. When my wife died in September, 2014, her eyes were donated to the Eye Bank and her body was taken by an organization called MedCure, without any fees. MedCure had been presented to us when my wife entered Arbor Hospice. Her body, as she wanted, was taken for medical research. When that was finished, her body was cremated and the ashes returned to me. With her cremated remains came a wildflower seed that we planted in our church’s memorial garden in the place where we had distributed her ashes. There were no charges for any of these services.

MedCure can be reached at 18111 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97230. Toll Free 1 866 560 2525. medcure.org.

Our whole family was very pleased with the services provided by MedCure, and no one asked for any money!


Rev. Kenneth W. Phifer