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How do I Donate my Body to Science?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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The process involved in donating a body to science is relatively simple. Scientific institutions have a pressing need for anatomical donations to conduct research, train the next generation of scientists, and do things like conducting safety tests. Donating a body to science allows someone to contribute to society after death.

Many nations have laws providing for body donation, such as the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in the United States. It is generally not legal to sell bodies or body parts, although the recipient of the body will handle expenses associated with storage and disposition of the body. Family members or the estate will still be charged for things like medical care before death, and sometimes for the transport of the body as well.

One option is to opt to donate a body to a specific institution. People can call or write research institutions or universities to ask about their willed body program, or they can do a search for a region and “willed body program” to see which programs are available in their area. As a general rule, such programs prefer anatomical gifts which are near by, so that they can transport the body quickly. For example, someone living in Illinois should donate to Illinois institutions, not an institution in California. Another option is to register with an anatomical gift registry, rather than a specific institution, with the registry directing the body to an institution which can use it after death.

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To enroll in a willed body program to donate a body to science, someone needs to fill out registration paperwork indicating that he or she wishes to make an anatomical gift, and giving consent. The institution will provide examples of the kind of research it does to give donors an idea of how their bodies may be used, but as a general rule, people cannot specify how their bodies can used. It is also advisable to inform family members and one's doctor so that these people are aware of the intent to donate. The signed paperwork should be kept with the donor's will and other important documents so that it will be immediately accessible after death.

When one donates a body to science, the institution usually wants to handle embalming and other treatments. The organization should be notified as soon as possible after death so that arrangements for transports can be made. When research is finished, the body is cremated, and the ashes may be respectfully disposed of at the institution or returned to the family by request.

People interested in making an anatomical gift should be aware that willed bodies are sometimes refused. If cadavers have experienced substantial damage or the person has died of a communicable disease, the body may be rejected. Likewise, bodies which have been autopsied are often rejected. Thus, it is a good idea to make alternate arrangements before death in case it is not possible to donate a body to science.

Finally, it is usually not possible to participate in an organ donation program and to make an anatomical gift, because scientific institutions and medical schools usually want whole bodies. Some may accept a body if it has been used for cornea donation, but other types of organ donation are not an option. For people who want to save lives with organ donation and advance scientific causes, one option is to donate organs through an organ donor program and to donate the brain to a brain bank for scientific study.

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browncoat
Post 3

@clintflint - Do they really need that many bodies these days though? I thought mostly they used manikins and computer simulations to train doctors these days. I've even seen robots shaped like pregnant women that will simulate giving birth so med students can learn techniques.

I thought body donation to science was usually done when someone has an unusual feature, like a strange injury or birth defect that scientists wanted to study, and they will usually request your donation.

clintflint
Post 2

@pastanaga - Well, they will still return the ashes to the family at their request, so if your family doesn't mind cremation I don't actually think it makes much difference in the long run.

One thing I will say, though, is that people should really sign up to be organ donors first and only donate their bodies to science if they are rejected as organ donors.

It takes surprisingly little to be rejected as an organ donor. If you are too overweight or over a certain age you probably won't be allowed to do this, for example. Donating your body to science is still helping people in the long run though, because it allows doctors to practice what they need to know on real bodies so that they can eventually use techniques to save lives.

pastanaga
Post 1

If you are thinking about doing this, you should speak to your friends and family about it first. It's an uncomfortable conversation, but I think it's one that should be had. It is your family who will have to live with the consequences of your decision after all. And if they are religious or just appreciate the idea of being able to visit a graveyard site or whatever, you might be depriving them of something that will give them comfort if you pass away.

Donating a body to science is ultimately the decision of the person who owns the body, but I don't think it's worth making the people you love miserable. I know I would prefer to do this, but I won't specify it until after my mother has passed away, because if I went before her she would be even more devastated if I wasn't buried in a traditional way.

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