The process of donating a whole body for medical research

Why choose body donation?

A full body donation can provide a compassionate and humane possible choice for a funeral.  Although full body donation is not as commonly known of as organ donation, it presents an opportunity to donate a greater gift to the future of humankind. 

A body donation to science provides a vital learning mode for surgeons, which can enable them to develop new techniques, or discover new life-saving procedures.  Anatomical full body donations have accounted for significant developments in the fields of terminal diseases and neurological science.

An anatomical donation allows a research institution to study new ways to understand and fight serious diseases.   Full body donation can support the progress of research in fields such as cancer treatment, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  An anatomical body donation to science is often attributed with an unfair stigma, although the process of an anatomical full body gift is not much different than the process a mortician follows for a standard funeral.  What differs is that an anatomical body donation facilities the collection of viable tissues and specimens for important scientific study, before the remains are cremated.  The cremated remains can then be returned to the family if this is their wish.  The timescale for this will vary dependent upon the institution selected. For more information on Body Donation refer to the article on ‘Donating a body to science‘.

Terms and acceptance onto a whole body donation program

If you or a loved one is considering cremation as an alternative to a traditional funeral, you could consider making an anatomical gift.   Only the legal next-of-kin(s) of the deceased can provide the necessary consent for donation if the donor did not provide it to the specific accepting program prior to death.  Individuals may request a consent form and will be supplied with information about policies and procedures that will take place after the potential donor is deceased. 

Body donation is not regulated through licensure and inspection by the federal government and most states. The legal right for an individual to choose body donation is governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which has been largely adopted by most states. Laws relating to the transportation and disposition of human bodies apply.

There are a number of organizations that provide a free cremation to those who make a full body donation to science. Making an anatomical gift is a final act of caring and leaves a legacy of hope for the future.  Many medical and research institutes accept whole body donations, you just need to check the specific requirements and terms, as these differ according to each institute.

A donation can be a time-critical decision, and requirements for accepting an anatomical donation can vary between institutions and organizations, therefore it is recommended that you conduct some research and preferably pre-register to donate.  This does not guarantee that the donation will be accepted at the time of death, but does ensure that you are fully versant with the terms associated with making your donation.  For example, some institutions require that the donor have registered at least 30 days before a death does occur.  Other institutions will accept at the time of death.


The Body Donation Process, Why Donate?

Written by

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 10 years.