Sunday December 10, 2023
Donating Your Body to Science
If you are looking to help the medical community, donating your body is an option to consider. While whole-body donations might not be for everyone based on cultural, personal or religious convictions, it can help advance science and eliminate funeral and burial costs.
It is estimated that approximately 20,000 people donate their whole body each year to medical facilities to be used in research projects, anatomy lessons and surgical training.
After completing their research, these facilities use environmentally friendly cremation procedures and intern the ashes in a local cemetery or return them to family. Bodies are usually cremated within one to three years of donation. Many facilities also hold an annual ceremony to thank donors and their families.
A donation of your body to science will have the benefit of avoiding funeral and burial costs. Facilities that accept body donations have policies that prohibit payment for the use of bodies. These policies are in accordance with federal and state laws.
Here are some other things that are important to consider that will help you determine whether whole-body donation is right for you:
Donation denial: Most body donation programs will not accept bodies over a certain weight or those that have infectious diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV or MRSA. Bodies that have suffered extensive trauma will also not be accepted.
Organ donation: Most medical school programs require that you donate your whole body in its entirety. If you decide to donate specific organs (except for your corneas), you will likely not qualify to be a whole-body donor.
Religious considerations: Many religions permit individuals to donate both their full body and organs. If you are unsure or want further guidance, you should consult with your religious or spiritual advisor.
Special requests: Most programs will not allow you to donate your body for a specific purpose. After you give them your body, they will decide how to use it.
Memorial options: Most programs require the immediate transport of the body after death, so there is not an option for open casket at the funeral. If your family wants a memorial service, they can have one without the body. Some programs offer memorial services at their facility at a later date without the remains.
Body transporting: Most programs will be responsible for arranging and paying for transporting your body to their facility if you are within a certain distance. However, the program accepting your body may charge a transportation fee if the body is outside their area. In some cases, your family may be required to pay out of pocket to have your body transported but there may be partial reimbursement for the cost.
How to Proceed
If you want to donate your body, it is best to make arrangements in advance with a body donation program in your area. Most programs are offered through university-affiliated medical schools. To find one near you, the University of Florida College of Medicine's Anatomical Board maintains a website with a list of nationwide programs with contact information. If you do not have Internet access, you can get help by calling the whole-body donation referral service during business hours at 800-727-0700.
In addition to medical schools, there are private organizations that accept whole body donations. Some of these organizations may also allow organ and tissue donation.
Carefully research any donation organization you plan to use to ensure proper care and handling of your body. Once you locate a program in your area, carefully review how the organization handles donated bodies so that you fully understand how their program works.
Generally, to register as a donor, you must fill out consent forms, have the forms witnessed or notarized and then return the forms. If you change your mind later, you can contact the program and remove your name from their registration list. Some programs may ask that you make your withdrawal in writing.
After you have made any arrangements, you should tell your family members so they will know what to do and who to call after your death. It is also a good idea to tell your doctors so that your final wishes can be included in your medical record.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.