Amputees can get their body parts back for spiritual reasons, new Oregon law says

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Health care facilities in Oregon will be allowed to return amputated body parts to patients for cultural, spiritual or religious reasons under a new law supported by tribes, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The bill, which takes effect on Sept. 24, was spearheaded by St. Charles Health System and leaders of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. For some members of the tribes, keeping a person’s body together is necessary for a smooth transition to the spirit world.

“In our spirituality, one of our sayings is ‘one body, one mind,’” said Wilson Wewa, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs spiritual leader and oral historian. “When there’s amputation, most of our tribal members know that we need to be whole at the time of our leaving this world to the next.”

Previous state law made returning body parts either difficult or impossible. At St. Charles, body parts could be blessed and cremated, with the remains returned to the patient.

But Wewa said cremated remains wouldn’t suffice for some patients, leading them to turn down life-saving procedures.

“It has led to, unfortunately, the death of some of our people because they’ve chosen not to get an amputation," Wewa said, and “our community, the family of the deceased, had to live with that trauma of losing their loved one.”

Shilo Tippett, a Warm Springs tribal member and manager of caregiver inclusion and experience at St. Charles, said the health system interviewed nearly 80 tribal members last year to get their thoughts on how state law should change.

“The overall picture that we got from community members was that, ‘We should have our amputated body parts back. That’s the way it was before Oregon law, those are our traditions and customs,’” Tippett said.