How to Donate Your Body to Science

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If you’re interested in making a difference after your death, donating your body to science is one way to do so. Schools and medical facilities use bodies to help students gain knowledge about anatomy, learn about diseases, and research new and innovative treatments that can further medical science. For many people, whole-body donations are also financially appealing. After using the body for research, the institution very often covers the cost of cremation and returns the remains to the family, which can cut down on funeral expenses.

Unlike organ donation, which is strictly regulated by the U.S. government, there aren’t any uniform guidelines for whole-body donation. Each institution has its own protocol, so there can be some variations, even within one state.

Who is eligible to donate their body to science

Generally speaking, most university medical schools require the donor to be at least 18 years of age, but after that, there’s no upper age limit. Some places might not accept a donation if the deceased person is overweight, underweight, has certain infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis, or has had an autopsy or recently unhealed surgery. Many programs will also turn away anyone who is an organ donor, so you’ll likely have to choose between the two donation processes.

How to find a whole-body donation program

When it comes to donating your body, there are many options to choose from. The most reputable programs are part of universities or large medical organizations, which use the bodies for anatomy and surgery lessons as well as medical research projects. This list compiled by the Anatomical Board of the State of Florida lists dozens of schools across the country that are looking for donations. Another option is to donate to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, whose unique Forensic Anthropology Center studies decomposing bodies to prepare students for careers in law enforcement and death investigations.

Other private companies like Science Care and Genesis accept whole-body donations too. It’s worth noting, however, that they can sell or lease your body parts to other organizations, even dividing up the body. That means, for example, that your brain could go to a private lab and your torso to a university, so it’s important to consider how you feel about that aspect of the process.

Whether you choose to give to a school, medical research organization, or private company, you won’t be paid for donation, but they will typically cover transport and cremation costs.

How the donation process works

If you’re interested in donating your body to science, you’ll need to fill out the institution’s consent form, which typically also requires two witness signatures. You can change your mind at any time and withdraw your donation, usually via a written request or phone call.

It’s a good idea to tell your family and physicians about your decision and put your wishes in your advance directives so that they can be honored. Even if you’ve committed to donating your body, some places, like the Mayo Clinic, will turn down a donation if the next-of-kin objects, which is something to keep in mind as you’re researching potential institutions. It’s also worth knowing that most programs will not let you choose how to use your body, so where you’ll end up depends on the needs of the various departments that take donations.

When the person who is donating their body has died, the person responsible for making their final arrangements should call the institution right away to initiate the donation process. Before accepting the body, most places will do a medical screening, either in person or over the phone, to ensure that the body can be given away. Because most institutions need to have the body within 24 hours after death, it’s important to let them know about the death immediately. This is also why it’s preferable to make a donation to a nearby institution, to make sure they have enough time to get the donation. If you’re set on a place that’s out of state or further away, know that your estate or family will likely have to cover the transportation costs; the majority of institutions only pay for expenses if the body is within a certain distance.

Most organizations will keep the body for around one to two years, cremate the remains at no additional cost, and then give them back to the family or scatter them on their own special plot for donors. The family usually always has the option to reclaim the remains for a private burial of their choosing, but they will have to pay for the cost of that funeral.

Even if you sign up to donate your body to science, it’s always important to make alternate arrangements as the organization has the right to reject donations if they don’t need them at the time.

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