Can you Recycle a Pacemaker?
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, yet it’s estimated that more than a million people around the world die each year because they can’t afford the high costs of a pacemaker.
But there’s a movement afoot to collect pacemakers after they’re removed for cremation and burial and repurpose the devices through pacemaker recycling services.
Studies have found that patients using recycled pacemakers showed no higher risk of infection or pacemaker malfunction than patients receiving brand new devices.
What is a Pacemaker?
Pacemakers are inserted into a patient’s chest or abdomen to stimulate the heart muscle and regulate the rate at which it beats. These devices can either speed up a slow heart rate, control an abnormal or fast heartbeat, ensure the ventricles contract normally, coordinate the electrical signaling between the different chambers of the heart and the ventricles, and prevent dangerous arrhythmias.
Pacemakers are made of sturdy materials, such as gold, silver palladium and platinum, and in the past have been removed after death to avoid any explosion during incineration as part of the cremation process.
But pacemakers are remarkably expensive, and the metals from which they’re constructed are desirable, and so organizations have realized the immense value of reusing them.
Recycling pacemakers saves on incineration costs and protects precious, reusable metals.
Pacemakers have relatively short-lived batteries which are usually the first part of the pacemaker to give out. But with a new battery, pacemakers function well when recycled and used by a second patient.
With pacemaker recycling services, the device will either be removed in a hospital or a trained funeral director will remove the pacemaker – always with the family’s permission – and the used devices will be shipped to an institution where they’re sterilized and inspected and given new batteries.
Patients receive recycled pacemakers with their informed consent, and recycled pacemakers can last another five to 10 years in a second patient.
Medical studies have shown that patients that received recycled pacemakers recovered similarly to patients that received brand new pacemakers.
Why Recycle a Pacemaker?
Most pacemakers are removed from bodies and are still disposed of as medical waste when they could be saving lives. The situation is particularly dire in countries abroad, such as India, where patients cannot afford these life-saving devices.
Yet the cost to recycle them is relatively small, and because the devices themselves are small and light, they cost little to ship around the world.
Many in the medical industry are no longer considering pacemakers as single-use devices, but rather as life-saving reusable resources, and numerous charitable organizations have arisen to recycle donated pacemakers in America and send them to developing countries abroad.
Some charitable organizations have been collecting and distributing used pacemakers since the early 1990s.