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 April 25

by Karen Purze

I recently got a question about donating a body to science. First off, what a generous gift. Beyond the well-known use of cadavers to teach medical students about anatomy, dead bodies are also used to practice emergency procedures and train medical professionals to operate devices that are dangerous to use on living patients. They’re also used for research. Whole body donations save lives and advance medical science. Once you’ve decided, the next obvious question is how do you actually make a plan to donate your body to science?

I did a little research, and voila, here’s your answer!

Choose Where to Donate Your Body

Identify an institution or organization that accepts donations. Medical schools and research institutions often accept whole body and organ donations. If you don’t have a specific institution in mind for the donation, the following organizations provide matching services and can guide you through the process: Science CareMedcureUnited Tissue Network NOTE: Verify if the organization serves your state.

Get Evaluated

Most organizations will want to talk to you to determine eligibility. To protect those who use the bodies for research, they do not accept bodies that have suffered from an infectious disease, for example. They may also have other restrictions (see below.)

Formalize the Decision

Make your intentions known to the organization by registering and/or authorizing the donation. The process is different for different organizations; ask what will be required of you in order to make it “official”. Also find out what those caring for you at the time of your will need to do when you die.

Share Your Choices

Don’t forget to share your decisions (sometimes called “Final Wishes”) with your family or those who are likely to be by your side at the end. That’s a generous gift, too.  

Arrange for Transportation

When you die, someone will need to contact the organization. If your body is accepted, the organization will arrange for transportation. The organization usually covers the cost (sometimes up to a limit, or within certain limitations.)

Make Final Arrangements

The organization usually supplies at least one death certificate. Once the body is no longer needed, most organizations will cremate and return the cremains (at no charge to the donor or their family.) Be aware that it could be weeks or even years before that happens; the most quoted time frame for the return of cremains is 3 – 15 weeks. Alternatively, the organization will bury or scatter the remains; the disposition process differs by institution.

Donor Beware

Even if you plan ahead to donate your body to science, your donation may be declined based on the condition of your body at the time of passing. Here are some common reasons a body donation may not accepted by an institution:

  • Trauma
  • Obesity
  • Infectious disease
  • Next of kin objection
  • Emaciation

Make a Backup Plan

Since you can’t know what shape you’ll be in when you die, you should also make an alternate plan for burial or cremation. If it turns out not to be necessary, great. If it is, you’ll have saved your family time and trouble by providing the information they’ll need in order to carry out your wishes.

Take Care,

Karen Purze

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About the author

Karen Purze is the author of Life In Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Details, a workbook to help people get their affairs in order. She is currently working on a memoir about her caregiving experience. Sign up for the Life in Motion Guide newsletter to be the first to hear more!

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