Disposal of pacemakers after death

When pacemakers find their way to a cremator there is inevitably a rather big bang and substantial consequential contamination that is best avoided.

Funeral directors do their best to capture those bodies with a pacemaker fitted, by examination of the body, by discussion with a hospital or GP, or after questioning of the next of kin. It is a great credit that so very few pacemakers slip though the net.

In a recent piece in the Kent and Sussex Courier it is recorded that, normally, funeral directors dispose of pacemakers via specialised clinical waste companies  or take them back to a local hospital.

The writer, Jo Parker,  had been in touch with heart hospitals, heart  charities and manufacturers of the pacemakers to see if there was some way of  recycling these devices, but it’s “not something we do here in the UK. These  devices are just destroyed”.

This got herthinking about overseas charities and she stumbled upon a charity  called Healing Little Hearts (www.healinglittleheart.org.uk).  The founder of  this charity is a consultant paediatrician at University Hospital Leicester, Dr  Nichani Sanjiv, and he takes medical teams to India to perform life-saving  surgery on children whose families can’t afford medical care.

Jo contacted Dr Sanjiv Nichani, who was delighted with the idea of recycling  our pacemakers; although Sanjiv himself works with the children in the hospital,  he has spoken with his medical colleagues who take care of the very poorest  patients that come into the Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai and the Government  Hospital, King Edward Medical College and the pacemakers we send will be used to  change their lives.

So, having found a charity, Jo thought why not make this bigger than a few  Kent members, why not roll this out nationally?

With arrangements in place for removal of pacemakers from cadavers, for their transport and reprocessing, and their export for re-use, this would seem to be an excellent (re)use of a life-saving resource.

Several regulatory barriers exist, that may thwart the best of intentions. Shipment of what is, inevitably, clinical waste may require a license. Export of that waste, even if reclassified as medical supplies is fraught with difficulties and compliance with all necessary regulations can be costly and troublesome, if not impossible. There will be additional legal and other ramifications concerning the safety of the re-processed medical device.

Despite all of these problems, we offer support to Jo Parker and her colleagues for their efforts and hope that unnecessary bureaucracy does not stand in their way.



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