Whole Body Donation in the United
Donating your body to science
once you die is a unique way to deal with the disposition of your remains
at the end of your life. It is, at once, both practical and yet an
unequivocal way of making a human, ethical and lasting legacy from your
life. Often otherwise termed an “anatomical gift”, donating your
body to medical science enables future generations to benefit.
The United States Medical
Schools have basically reached a point where there can be a lack of suitable
donor bodies, which obviously restricts the capacity for medical research
and medical training of future surgeons and physicians. The lack
of anatomical subjects in recent years has resulted in medical institutions
sharing donated subjects between medical students, and even between medical
departments or medical schools.
The thought of donating your
body to science is not for everyone, many people cannot contemplate the
notion of their body being used for scientific purposes, but on the whole,
this is a reality that we all must face. We all expect first-class
medical treatment when we need it, and how do these surgeons and doctors
learn the skills they need to treat us? They need to train, and the
only way to truly understand how the human body works is to examine it,
and to practice procedures in preparation for treating the living and saving
If you so desire you can
make the end of your life meaningful in a whole new dimension, in many
ways, a body donation can be a ‘Gift of Life’. As a society we have
a great acceptance of organ donation at death as a means to facilitate
life from death. Similarly we will become more accepting of the notion
of donating our whole body to science as we become more practical about
Realistically, whole body
donation not only provides the individual and/or family the opportunity
to do something wonderful, it also covers all the death care expenses.
These days a funeral can mean costs of many thousands of dollars.
In fact the average funeral today costs $7,755 (National Association of
Funeral Directors survey 2012), even a simple cremation organized by a
funeral home can cost around $1,000.
In an era of Baby Boomers
“doing it their way”, and such economical uncertainty for many families,
choosing to make an anatomical donation rather than have a traditional
funeral can mean saving thousands on funeral costs. An anatomical
donation is even being termed a “no-cost cremation” or funeral alternative
these days, as this basically is what you get.
The American public is becoming
much more open about the notion of whole body donation as a compassionate
funeral alternative. Although many people still see funerals as a
tradition and a ritual within our culture, this is now changing, as we
become better able to discuss death. Notably the baby boomer generation
is reshaping the death care landscape as they have many aspects of their
lives. For many baby boomers, the extravagance of funerals, and the
rituals and expenses attached, are unimportant – instead they take a more
practical and personalized approach. As a culture we are in the cusp
of many changing funeral alternative trends. Cremation is significantly
on the increase in the United States, as are funeral alternatives such
as ‘green funerals’, as we become more environmentally and more ethically
It can also not be ignored
that the current global economic recession has dramatically affected just
what ordinary American families can afford when it comes to a funeral.
When donating your body to science can mean no funeral expenses for your
family, it is quite understandable why more and more Americans are choosing
So if you feel you would
like to do something to help the continuance of medical training in the
US, if you want a funeral alternative that means something different, or
if you are looking for a free or no-cost cremation for your family – then
sign up for an anatomical donation program.
How do you make an anatomical
donation or whole body donation?
A body donation can be conducted
at the time of death, or can form part of a person’s last will and testament.
You, as an individual can make the decision to have your body donated to
science, or the immediate next-of-kin can make that decision at the time
of death if this is what the family wishes.
It is a very straightforward
process – you just need to telephone a body donation programe and they
will start the process. You can register your interest for body donation
as a pre-need request, or you can call now if you have an immediate need
to make an anatomical donation following a death.
In accordance with the Uniform
Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) donor consent forms must be completed.
These can be filled in during a pre-need request, or can be completed by
the deceased’s legal next of kin at the time of death.
It can depend upon which
organization or institution you opt to donate with, as to how the registration
and donation program works. For example, some medical institutions
that accept donations directly do require that you pre-register at least
30-days before a death occurs, whereas other organizations may consider
a donation at the time of death.
How long does the donation process
When a death occurs and the
body is to be donated to science, you should contact the body donation
company immediately. They will arrange to collect the deceased from
the place of death, coordinate the anatomical donation, arrange the cremation
of the deceased following the donation, and usually the cremated remains
are available for the family, if they so desire, within approximately 4
– 6 weeks.
In certain cases it may take
longer for the remains to be returned to the family if the donation is
for specific medical research, but ordinarily all donations are completed
within 12 weeks.
Can anyone donate his or her
body to science?
Basically yes, medical institutions
accept donations from all ages, ethnicities and locations. Many medical
institutions and medical schools actually require cadavers with certain
pre-existing conditions for specific training or research purposes.
Illnesses such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia and arthritis DO NOT
generally inhibit a donation.
Generally past medical ailments
or surgeries do not disqualify you from making an anatomical donation.
However, there are certain restrictions on eligibility, there is a general
guide to these below:
You should bear in mind that
it is possible that the body donation program may decline to accept your
donation, therefore, you should be prepared and have an alternative arrangement
Donors with HIV 1or 2, AIDS
related deaths are not generally accepted
Donors with Hepatitis B or C
are not generally accepted
Donors with syphilis are not
Donors with kidney failure or
jaundice are not generally accepted
Donors with a severe bacterial
or viral infection that resulted in isolation are not generally accepted
Donors with fluid retention
(edema) are often not accepted
Donors who died as the result
of extensive trauma are not generally accepted
Donors with severe obesity may
not be accepted
Are there any expenses incurred
with donating your body to science?
Generally no. The body
donation organization arrange everything, from collecting the deceased,
transportation to the donation facility, arranging the death certificate,
cremation of the remains post-donation and return of the cremated remains
to the family if desired.
What is helping to make body
donation much more widely acceptable today is the blunt fact that it does
offer a FREE CREMATION, and basically can be a no-cost funeral alternative
for those who simply do not have the funds to afford a funeral.
Do be aware that if you opt
to deal directly with a local medical institution or university, there
may be some expenses. Some institutions do NOT cover the transportation
costs of collecting the deceased and you may need to make arrangements
with a funeral home to transport the deceased to the institution.
Therefore, you should carefully check this before making the decision to
donate and which organization to use.
Some funeral homes in certain
states are now working in conjunction with local medical schools and universities
to facilitate body donation. It is not uncommon for a funeral home
to offer a low cost cremation for around $150 - $350, which is in fact
part of a body donation program. This means that the funeral home
does assist you in taking care of the deceased immediately, coordinating
with the local university program and transporting the deceased to the
facility, all for a nominal fee to cover expenses.
The merger of certain US
airlines has impinged upon the body donation market in the United States.
This has reduced the versatility of connections and driven up costs, resulting
in some of the national body donation organizations becoming more limited
in where they can collect donations. This means it is all the more
imperative to pre-register and check out what your options are to make
an anatomical gift without incurring expenses.
Do we get the ashes or cremated
remains back after the donation?
Yes, generally the cremated
remains are returned to the family in a basic urn in order that you may
conduct your own memorial service.
How can I be sure that the cremated
remains returned are my family member?
The team behind the body donation
program is first and foremost funeral professionals who understand the
importance of treating your loved one with dignity, respect and care.
They understand that your decision to make an anatomical gift is a distinct
choice, but no less important than any other death care ritual.
For this means you will have
the service of a professional who will be there to support you through
the whole process. All donations are confidentially and uniquely
identified to ensure that the donation is tracked through the medical system
and the cremation process.
Can bequeathing a body to science
hinder social security, pension or insurance payments?
No, the final disposition method
of the deceased does not affect any benefits, insurance or pension entitlements.
The death certificate is all that is required for these purposes.
How does your faith or religious
denomination affect donating your body to science?
Basically it should not affect
this decision at all. Most religions widely accept the practice of
body donation as an ethical decision. The practice is approved by
the Protestant faith, the Catholic faith and reformed Jewish religious
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.
Anatomical Gift Act
Donation Programs in the United States from Medical Institutes in the US