A new Oregon law, spearheaded in Central Oregon, will allow health care facilities in Oregon to return amputated body parts to patients for cultural, spiritual or religious reasons under a new law supported by tribes.
Many in Native American communities believe that your full body must be together to enter the spirit world.
Today, Pinky Beymer is grateful that her daughter rests in one place. We met her in the St. Charles-Madras Healing Garden, a space that includes native imagery as a tribute to the beliefs and culture followed by the Beymer family.
“Nevada Beymer was really big, wonderful and so forgiving,” Pinky said, remembering her daughter.
Nevada was diagnosed at six months with Reye’s syndrome. It’s a disorder that impacted her physically and mentally throughout her short life.
“She had many problems, and it ended up that one of them was cancer in her leg and we thought if we could keep the cancer from going any further, then she could live,” Beymer said. “We decided the best thing to do was to amputate her leg, but we knew we wanted to keep her leg as well.”
The procedure was back in 2002 when Oregon state law required all body parts to be kept within the medical system.
“One of the beliefs in our culture for some people is that in order to travel or journey to the spirit world following death, your body has to be intact.” said Dr. Shilo Tippett, manager of caregiver inclusion and experience at St. Charles.
This ushered in a complex process, trying to bring Nevada’s leg home.
“We went to the administration and told them, St. Charles in Bend, that we wanted to keep our daughter’s leg. And it was just part of our belief and what we needed,” Beymer said. “They were like, ‘I’m not sure about that.’”
The Beymer family met with St. Charles officials multiple times. Pinky recalls signing endless documents.
But once the dust settled, Nevada made it home — all of her.
“The important part was that we got it, we got it all done and she’s all together, wherever she is,” Beymer said.
Other families weren’t so successful. Some got procedures without taking their body parts home, and others chose to skip the life-saving care altogether.
It created urgency for St. Charles and Warm Springs leaders to force change.
“As of January 1, tribal members can take home their amputated body parts so that when the time comes, their journey to the spirit world will be full,” Tippett said.
The law will go into effect statewide Jan. 1, 2024.
“It just ties everything together for that person, our culture, our beliefs, wherever we travel to,” Beymer said. “It’s who we are, what we are and our ancestors.”