Donating your body to science (also called “anatomical gift”) is a noble way to deal with the disposition of your remains after death. By contributing to science, in some way, you help to find a cure for deadly diseases like AIDS or cancer.
Donating your body to science is also an excellent way to avoid the cost of a funeral and burial. You don’t need to pay one dime in funeral if you choose to go this route.
- No embalming cost – embalming prevents the specific test from being performed because it damages the tissues
- No casket cost – you don’t need a coffin, but you can rent one from the funeral home if you want to have a memorial service
- No cremation fee – facilities that accept whole body donations provide a free cremation.
It is both a practical and ethical way of leaving a lasting legacy.
In most cases, you will know in advance if you will qualify for this program. So if you feel like you would like to leave a legacy and help the continuance of medical training or you want to forego the cost of a funeral – then sign up for whole body donation.
This article will give all the information you need to know about whole-body donations and if it’s right for you.
WHOLE BODY DONATION IN THE UNITED STATES
Body donation also called an anatomical gift, or body bequest, is the donation of the entire body after death for education and research. Donated bodies are used for the study of gross anatomy and surgical anatomy and continuing medical education.
For many years, only medical schools accept whole body donation. Today, private programs are also accepting whole bodies for donations. There are many private whole body donation programs in the US. Most of these programs accept bodies from their surrounding areas.
There is generally no cost to donate a body to science. Most programs cover the cost of cremation once the remains have served its purpose and returned the ashes to the families.
The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act governs the legal right of a person to choose whole body donation. Most states largely adopt it.
Many states instituted programs and regulations regarding body parts and whole body donation. United States House Bill 5318 indicates that Health and Human Services would oversee the body donation industry.
Any person planning on donating his body to science may do so through a willed body program. The donor is required to make a prior arrangement or pre-registration with the local medical school, university, or whole-body donation program before death. He needs to sign a consent form, and know the information about the policies and procedures that will happen to their body when they die.
Donors must decide to donate their remains after death and your power of attorney cannot make the decision for you. Only the legal next-of-kin of the donor could provide the necessary consent for the donation if the deceased did not submit it to the accepting facility after death.
Many medical programs in the US today hold student-led memorial services for the corpses of body donation to show respect for the donors and their families.
TYPES OF BODY DONATION
ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION
Organ and tissue donation is a great way to help others. You can donate your organs or tissue only. Your family can keep your body to bury or cremate. If you wish to be an organ donor, next time you renew your driver’ license check the box that says “organ donor.”
WHOLE BODY DONATION
Nearly every medical school or college of medicine has a full body donation program, which is also called the willed body program. Whole-body donation is the best way of individuals who want to donate their whole bodies and avoid the cost of a funeral. There are whole-body programs in the US to assist institutions and organizations.
Medical schools and independent donation programs can provide free transportation, copy of death certificate, cremation, and return the ashes to the family.
To find whole body donation programs near you consult the University of Florida list of U.S. body donation programs and their contact information at www.med.ufl.edu/anatbd/usprograms.html.
You can donate your whole body to a “body farm”. If you choose this option, your family cannot have your remains back. There are seven body farms in the US. Body farms like the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center will use your body to teach students about the various states of decomposition.
Body farms are areas of land where donated bodies are laid to be studied for human decomposition. Scientist and researchers will put the donated bodies so that they can explore the effects of environment and trauma to decomposition. All the costs associated with the donation are covered by the body farm except the transportation of the body to the facility.
Whole-body can be donated and preserved using the plastination procedure. The donated body is preserved by replacing bodily fluids and fats with plastic that hardens. The bodies are hardened with heat, gas, and light.
The whole body donation program is currently managed by the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany and put in display in different parts of the world. They are now not accepting new body donations because they are at full capacity, but you can check back in as time progresses.
HOW DOES DONATING YOUR BODY TO SCIENCE REALLY WORK?
Donating your body to science is an easy process. Here are the steps to need to follow to donate:
STEP 1: FIND AN APPROPRIATE DONATION PROGRAM
Many medical schools and university offer whole body donation programs. There are also some independent donation programs throughout the country.
Start by looking for programs near your area to make the transportation of the body easier. We have a list of resources at the bottom of the article to help you find a program fit for you.
STEP 2: CONTACT THE PROGRAM AND PRE-REGISTER
It is an essential requirement for you to pre-register at your chosen program. Go to your nearest facility and complete the forms in the registration packet including all paperwork and the consent form.
It depends on the program or organization you decide to donate how the registration and donation program works. Some programs require you to pre-register at least 30 days before death, while other programs may consider a donation at the time of death.
You must complete the donor consent form according to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA). These can be filled in during a pre-registration or can be completed by the donor’s legal next of kin at the time of death.
STEP 3: KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS
Know the policy of the program regarding whole body donation. Many organizations will cover all the expenses, including transportation of the body and cremation. Some programs do not include transportation of the body.
Make sure that you are fully aware of the policies so that you can make a back-up plan if necessary.
If you chose to have organ or tissue donation only to save someone’s life instead of a whole-body donation, you need to register with the Network For Organ Sharing. Also, check the box on organ donation when you renew your driver’s license.
STEP 4: INFORM YOUR LOVED ONES
It is crucial for people who will be making your arrangements to know about your decision regarding whole body donation. If they are not aware of this, it can cause some complications when you die.
Let your loved ones know if you have taken care of the pre-registration and all the necessary paperwork. Make sure that the people handling your final affairs are well aware of your decision so that they can tell the funeral service to inform the donation program of your death.
STEP 5: UPDATE YOUR WILL
If you decide to donate your body to science, you should make instructions in your will. After updating your will, tell your loved ones so that they will know what to do and who to contact when you pass away.
It’s also a great idea to tell your doctor about your final wishes. Put your instructions in writing. These legal documents can spell out your wishes about your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself.
STEP 6: CREATE A BACKUP PLAN
It’s possible that the body donation program may decline to accept your body donation; therefore, you need to be prepared and have a back-up plan.
You need to have something to cover the cost of your funeral and other final expenses. Having burial insurance, final expense insurance, or funeral insurance to cover the cost of your end-of-life expenses will lift the financial burden from your family.
DONATING YOUR BODY TO SCIENCE: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can anyone donate his body to science?
YES, medical institutions and private donation programs accept a donation from all ages, locations, and ethnicities.
Some facilities require bodies with certain pre-existing medical conditions for specific training or research purposes.
Illnesses such as stroke, cancer, dementia, arthritis, and diabetes will not disqualify you for donation.
There are some general restrictions on eligibility. These medical conditions may not be qualified for body donation:
- HIV 1 or 2, AIDS-related deaths are not accepted
- Hepatitis B or C
- Kidney failure or jaundice
- A severe viral or bacterial infection that resulted in the isolation
- Fluid retention or edema
- Death caused by extensive trauma
It is possible that program for body donation may reject your donation; therefore, you should make an alternative arrangement if necessary.
How long does the body donation process take?
If your loved ones made pre-registration for body donation, contact the body donation program immediately after death.
The facility will arrange to collect the body from the place of death. They will process the anatomical donation and arrange the cremation after the donation.
Usually, the cremated remains are available within 4-6 weeks. In some instances, it may take longer if the facility used the body for specific research. Generally, all donations are completed within 12 weeks.
Can I request the program to use my body for a specific scientific study?
NO, you cannot request your donation to be used for a specific study. Medical schools and private donation organizations do not always know in advance what they will be working on when they receive a body.
Once you decide which organization you will be donating to, try to ask if you can request a particular project and if they will grant your request.
Are there other options for body donations besides medical groups?
You can choose to donate your body to be used in forensic research rather than medical research. There are seven body farms in the US where your body will be left to decompose under a variety of conditions.
Can donating my body to science hinder social security, pension or insurance payout?
NO. The final disposition method of your body will not affect any of your benefits, pension, or insurance entitlements.
Your beneficiary will only need to present your death certificates for these purposes.
Can I get paid for donating my whole body to science?
NO. Federal law prohibits the buying and selling of organ, tissue or body for transplant, research, or medical education.
Can I have a funeral or memorial service if I donate my body to science?
Yes! If you wish, you can still have a funeral with an open casket.
You should contact the facility or program that will be handling your body donation to get more specific information on how interments can be made.
If I want to donate my body, is indicating donation on my driver’s license enough?
NO. You can only indicate your preference to have organ donation on your driver’s license. You need to make a pre-registration to a medical school or private donation programs to donate your whole body.
Can I still donate my organs if I want to donate my whole body?
Whether or not you can donate your tissues or organs will depend on the program where you enrolled.
Some private donation programs permit organ donation, while medical schools do not. If you would like to donate both, inquire on the facility before making registration.
Are there any expenses involve with donating your body to science?
NO. Generally, the body donation program will arrange everything, from collecting your body, transporting to the donation facility, arranging death certificate, cremation of the body after the donation, returning the remains to the family.
What makes body donation popular today is the FREE CREMATION and no-cost funeral alternative to people that cannot afford a funeral.
Check with the donation organization because some of them don’t cover the cost of transportation of the remains to the facility.
Carefully check the details before making a decision to donate and which organization to use.
How does your religious organization affect donating your body to science?
Most major religions accept the practice of body donation. Some even encourage it. Protestant faith, Catholic faith, and some reformed Jewish religious leaders approve body donation.
If you’re unsure of it, you should consult your pastor or spiritual leader.
Do we get the cremated ashes back after the donation?
YES, generally the cremated remains are returned in an urn to the family to conduct their own memorial service.
How do I learn about body donation programs?
There are different ways to find out information about body donation programs. We have included links to some resources below. There is lots of information available on the internet, or you can consult your nearest medical school for information.
DONATING TO SCIENCE RESOURCES
Listing of U.S. body donation programs – http://anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms/
International Society for Organ Donation: https://www.tts.org/isodp/about-isodp/welcome-to-isodp
Forensic Anthropology Center https://fac.utk.edu/
Private Anatomical Donation Programs:
Science Care – https://www.sciencecare.com/
Anatomical Gift Association http://agaillinois.org/about.htm
MedCure Body Donations https://medcure.org/
United Tissue Network https://unitedtissue.org/
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