Step 1: Pathology department
After the amputation, the amputated body part is first sent to the Pathology department in the hospital, where the tissue of the limb is examined. Until this examination is completed, the amputated body part is kept here. Read more about the amputation process.
Step 2: Research material or waste
According to the standard procedure, there are two options for the Pathology department following the examination: the removed body part is used for medical research or it is disposed of as what is called "specific hospital waste". This waste is then disposed of together with other hospital waste. In the Netherlands, this type of medical waste is only processed by in Dordrecht.
If the limb is to be used for medical research, the patient’s consent must always be obtained first. It is less common that consent is requested for disposing of the body part.
In (Who owns my amputated leg?, paid article), Bart Jansen and Rogier I.C. challenge the notion that amputated limbs can simply be discarded. They claim that the body part is not the property of the hospital or the doctor, so they are not in a position to decide whether or not to dispose of the amputated limb. They do, however, mention exceptions, such as the risk of contamination.
In addition to option A (used for medical research) and option B (disposal), there is yet another possibility: the patient takes the amputated body part with him or her. Is this allowed?
In some religions, it is important that your body is buried as complete as possible. Members of these religious therefore want to be buried together with the amputated body part. So, it occasionally occurs that a body part is taken by the patient after the amputation for burial. The entire body can then ultimately be buried in a single grave.
Another option is to cremate the body part. For some people, this can help with the grieving process after the amputation.
Can you take the amputated body part home with you?
Is it also possible to simply take the amputated body part home with you? The most obvious answer is no, of course not. Body parts need to be stored in formalin (‘alcohol’) and this is subject to very strict rules. So, storing the body part at home is virtually impossible.
All the same, it’s not completely cut and dried. Giving a patient body material is a grey area in law. Read the article (Can you take an amputated leg home with you?) for more information. The conclusion of this article in Dutch newspaper NRC is that, from a legal perspective, you are allowed to take your amputated body part home with you. However, there are no rules for what you can do with it at home. This poses quite a few practical problems. What happens to the body part when you go home?
Not many people who have undergone an amputation ask to take their body part home with them. Consequently, there is little information available on how hospitals should address such a request. A well-known story, however, is that of Leo Bonten. Leo did not want his amputated leg to be destroyed, but wanted to make a lamp out of it. The court ultimately decided in his favour. In (Right to your own leg after amputation?), you can read more about Leo Bonten.