San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Medical donor program eases burden of death

From the print edition

Helen Dunn Frame | Special to The Tico Times

Being a part of the Universidad de Ciencias Médicas voluntary donor program “made my grieving easier,” Charles Jennings said after his wife’s recent death. 

Knowing the end was imminent, he and his wife, Dianne, agreed that she would remain at home until her death, and welcome the promise of the university’s care. Being a doctor, Dianne knew that medical students would be the most grateful to have cadavers to study, and that the bodies were treated with respect.

Dianne died on a Saturday morning, and UCIMED Administrator Guillermo Elizondo arranged for employees of Camposanto Silencio y Paz, located in Barva, Heredia, to retrieve the body. 

Charles and Dianne had taken care of their personal affairs a couple of months earlier. He had made copies of their cédulas (she was a citizen), the death certificate (provided by the Caja’s National Pain Control and Palliative Care Center, referred to as the “Pain Clinic”) and a copy of the agreement with UCIMED.  The Pain Clinic in Barva donated a hospital bed and an oxygen generator and provided medical and psychiatric services at home for about a year. (Terminally ill Caja patients are eligible for this.)

As UCIMED does not issue death certificates, it is the responsibility of the next of kin or a friend to obtain one from a hospital doctor, a medical examiner or another licensed medical provider. The school takes care of embalming the body, which will be studied for five years, and it also handles any other legal requirements. At the end of the term, the body may be buried in a cemetery that the school contracts with, or claimed by a family member or friend.

Interestingly, only three of the 125 donors are Ticos, which might be explained by cultural differences. Charles noticed that his Tico friends who wanted to hold a wake were astonished when the body was taken away. But for Charles, having Dianne as a willing participant in the program helped give closure. He also signed up believing that his four children would have difficulty dropping everything in the U.S. to handle final arrangements. For a single person, the program reduces the strain on friends and distant family.

To participate, you can make an appointment with bilingual attorney and notary Ana Isabel Borbón by calling 2549-0000, extension 1170. She has been with UCIMED for seven years and has handled this program since its inception five years ago. Borbón processes your request and provides a contract. 

UCIMED is located in Sabana Oeste, 400 meters west of the Agriculture Ministry on the old road to Escazú. The website can be found at

Read about Helen Dunn Frame, author of “Greek Ghosts,” writer, and editor, at

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