How to donate your body to Science

A basic burial averages close to $6,600 in the United States. Many people worry about the financial burden this places on their families. There is a way around this besides opting to be cremated and carrying enough life insurance: whole-body donation.

It's estimated that at least 20,000 bodies are donated each year. I'm considering it myself. The idea of contributing to medical education and research intrigues me — and I also like the idea that it potentially means a no-cost funeral.

That sounds like the lowest form of cheapskatery, but hear me out. I'd planned on cremation, since my personal desire is not to take up any real estate after death. I'd rather leave this mortal coil to the folks who are still alive to enjoy it. But even a bargain-rate cremation runs about $750, and if surviving family wanted a chance to say goodbye first it would cost more. Maybe a lot more.

My estate is fairly small, and I'd like to leave as much of it as possible to my only child, who experiences some disability. And again: I'd like to help future doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals improve their skill sets.

Your religious faith may have strict rules about how a corpse should be treated. Or maybe you just can't get past the idea that you will be dissected over a period of months in anatomy class, or cut up and divided among different programs (brain to an Alzheimer's study, joints to an orthopedic surgery training).

If that bothers you, then of course you shouldn't do it. Keep in mind there won't be much bodily integrity in that 6-by-3 slot in the soil, either. Your body will decompose. Ashes to ashes and all that.

A Caring and Gracious Act

If I were a wagering woman, I'd bet that 90% of the readers who saw the headline either shuddered or said “eeewww.” Maybe both.

Riddle me this: Why is organ donation lauded while donating a body gives us the heebie-jeebies? They're both caring, gracious acts. But you probably won't see a Lifetime movie about the impact of whole-body donation because people generally find the idea deeply creepy. It puts the “gross” in “gross anatomy.”

Here's another way of thinking about it: Whole-body donation benefits all of us, every day. Any physician trained in the United States worked with cadavers. New medical instruments and new surgical methods are perfected on human tissues, joints, and bones.

Altruism is the usual motive for donation, according to industry spokespeople. (Yep, it's an industry. More on that in a minute.) People designate their bodies for study to contribute to the greater good.

Not every medical school has a “willed body” program, however. The ones that don't need to get cadavers from somewhere else. Sometimes that means another medical school, but it usually involves one of the handful of nonprofit and for-profit companies that procure human tissue in this country.

How do those companies obtain bodies? By paying for transport and final disposition, that's how. Hence the idea of a free funeral.

How Much is That Body in the Window?

Not every medical school pays for preliminary embalming and transportation of cadavers. Posthumous enrollment in gross anatomy class means getting your own ride to school. By contrast, the human-tissue procurement companies pay for all of it, from pickup to cremation.

Here's how to find out more about both options:

Maybe the idea of the body as commodity strikes you as just wrong. You're not alone. Medical ethicists are still trying to figure out the ramifications of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which forbids the sale of human tissue for transplant or therapy. It does permit “reasonable payment” for services such as surgical removal, storage, transportation, etc. But it doesn't address whole bodies or the sale of body parts for anything other than transplant or therapy.

So are you breaking the law by arranging for the postmortem sale of your body? No one is quite sure. I look at it this way: If I make this choice I won't be profiting by it. I'll be saving my daughter and any other heirs the cost of dealing with my remains.

If you opt for a nonprofit or for-profit group, be aware that each does things differently. For example, some allow for organ donation because they deal in body parts as well as whole cadavers.

You may have the chance to have your ashes mailed back to your heirs. At least one company sends a letter about the kind of research that was furthered by your body (or parts of it).

Certain conditions preclude donation, e.g., contagious diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. Some programs will not accept extremely obese cadavers.

Timing might make a difference, too, since some organizations specify “no embalming” — in other words, the cadaver must be refrigerated and shipped as soon as one hour after death. If seeing you one last time is important to family members, choose a company that allows enough time for viewings.

It's important to note that you may not be able to dictate how your body will be used, such as in the following circumstances:

  • A whole-body donation company may sell to private-sector researchers or companies that design new medical devices.
  • A company may use body parts in on-site physician training facilities.
  • Some send cadavers to medical schools in countries where whole-body donation goes against cultural mores.

If these examples trouble you, then you might want to donate only to a medical school. This will likely cost money, although probably still less than a funeral.

Plan Your Approach

Should you decide to donate, research the options and make the arrangements yourself. A nebulous “please donate my body to science” request isn't fair to your loved ones. When you die they'll be shocked and grieving; don't make them look up the different programs and try to figure out what you would have wanted.

Talk to your family about it now, and don't be surprised if you encounter objections. Listen to them. It will be easier to answer such concerns if you've read the FAQ sections of med school or donation company websites. Remember: Their feelings are valid, even though ultimately it is your decision.

Unless, of course, your next of kin ignores your request and arranges a funeral. If you think this could happen, put your final wishes in writing and get them witnessed and notarized. Store the document with other “in the event of my death” paperwork, and maybe leave copies with a family member you trust to carry out your decision.

Incidentally, this can go the other way: Your next of kin can donate your body to science without your consent. If that skeeves you out, make your wishes known quite emphatically. Myself, I'd put it in writing. I'd also threaten to come back and haunt whoever did the donating.

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Brian @ Progressive Transformation
Brian @ Progressive Transformation
8 years ago

May I also add that when I worked in Palliative and End of Life care, when a family and hospice patient knew the body was going to be helping another, the process was easier for everyone. The hospital took care of the body and the family was left without the burden.

This isn’t the right choice for everyone. It is a deeply personal choice that can effect many people. But i am so glad J.D. has brought this up.

Sincerely,
Brian

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

I am an organ donor, as stipulated on my drivers license. As such, is it possible to still donate your body to science/research? Thanks. L

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
7 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Laura: It depends on which company you choose. Some will take only intact cadavers. But it is possible to donate a body from which organs have been removed for transplant.

Bruce Bush
Bruce Bush
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

My question is this: If companies can sell my body or parts of it to whom ever they wish, then why is it illegal for me to sell it to them? I mean, isn’t that a bit of a double standard? If someone else can make money from my body, then why can’t I?

Erika
Erika
7 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Hello Laura, after reading your post I need to ask you one question. My mother-in-law who is receiving hospice services now decided 6 years ago that she would like to donate her body to science after she passes away. Everything was going well until now Medcare called us to get some info on her. The only question they asked me if she is a U.S. Citizen? Because she is not, that will be impossible. My question is what does Citizenship has to do here when the person is trying to make a generous donation to science? To me that’s ridiculous.

jen_alluisi
jen_alluisi
8 years ago

Please also note that “donating your body for science” can mean much more than simply having your cadaver or organs dissected for education or research. It can also mean going to a lab where rate of human decomposition under different circumstances is tested, where growth rate of maggots is measured for forensic science purposes, where the body is used as a “real” crash-test dummy…it’s not all medical students and sterile labs. That’s not to say that those things aren’t worthy – in fact, I believe they are – but you should be aware of all the possibilities, especially if you’re… Read more »

Theresa
Theresa
8 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

I was going to suggest that book. I read it and found it fascinating! I usually get squimish when it comes to blood, but I had no problem when I read that book.

My dad wanted to donate his body to science, but it was not accepted due to the condition of his body (he died in an accident). He was cremated instead.

I would like to donate any organs that can be used and have the remainder cremated. Then I want a tree planted over my ashes. I haven’t figured out where or what kind of tree yet.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Theresa

Here in Japan, I’ve seen many gravemarkers under cherry trees (sakura). They look like the most beautiful resting places imaginable.

Christine, Random Hangers blog
Christine, Random Hangers blog
8 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

That’s a great book. I’d recommend it too.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

Thanks, Jen. I meant to read that book but I was in the thick of degree-getting when it came out. I’ll look for it at the library.
You’re right — I probably should have mentioned automotive uses et al., but the piece was getting pretty long. To everyone who’s reading the comments: When you contact a company, follow Jen’s advice and ask about ALL possible uses, if the idea of winding up on The Body Farm distresses you.

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

My sister, who had to take many medical university courses for her degree, specifically asked our family NOT to donate our bodies to science after seeing what happened to some of those body parts. Her request stuck with me as lots of people talk about how great organ donation is but you don’t hear many arguing the less romantic side of it. Regarding the cost of funerals etc., a family member recently died and even though he was being cremated, the cost of renting a coffin for the few hours during visitation and the funeral (had to be larger as… Read more »

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

So what happened to the body parts? They get tossed around for fun by med students? Or did the med students make jokes about the way people looked? I can imagine that happening.

Even if that were the case, and someone irreverently used my bladder as a beach ball after I died….who cares? I don’t need it anymore. Or if they’re cracking jokes about my various body parts…I’m not there to hear it, nor would I care anymore.

John
John
7 years ago
Reply to  BD

Beach bladder volley ball? I like it! Though..I can’t see it catching on for most folk. I do agree. Once I’m done with it, why would I care what my body is used for? Heck, just drop it off the end of the nearest pier if the medical folks don’t want it. Fish need to eat to. And respect for the dead my arse! If you want to respect someone, you do so while they are alive. John’s funeral fund collection: If each of you would send me just one dollar a day. Then I’ll buy a small Caribbean island… Read more »

Charles
Charles
5 years ago
Reply to  BD

You would think that professionals that deal with the deceased would treat them with dignity for science. I have heard stories about propping up the deceased person and throwing tennis balls at them. Also propping them up and putting a cigar in their mouth and taking students taking pictures. Not for me. Id rather be cremated. In case you don’t know they do sell body parts in Asia and eat some of the parts.

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

I can’t stand the thought of being on display after I’m dead. I don’t want people to remember me that way.

When my grandmother died, she was cremated so for the wake and the funeral we made collages of photographs of her. That’s how I want to be remembered — grinning from ear to ear and pictured with the people I love.

Glenda
Glenda
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

Marianne, just like BD, I am really curious to find out what awful things happened to cadavers, so much that your sister had an issue with any of you donating your bodies…

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago
Reply to  Glenda

I think it mostly had to do with the irreverence with which most students treated the parts. I’m not sure that anything particularly horrible happened but she was very turned off by it all. She was a more mature student at the time so it’s quite possible that there were many very young, immature students in the classes with her that I can imagine might be less than respectful.

Audrey
Audrey
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

I worked in a medical school for five years, and even now I work across the street and ride a shuttle to and from work with medical students. In fact, just Friday, two students were discussing gross anatomy and were making a few snide comments about their bodies. My parents told me a few years ago that they were going to donate their bodies science, mostly because it was cheaper. I told a friend of mine who’s a medical student, and he had the same reaction as your sister. He thought they were crazy, and he knew what people do… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
5 years ago
Reply to  Audrey

I wanted to second the idea that not everyone is like those immature med students not sure how to deal with death. I’m a nursing student who worked with someone’s body in a comparative anatomy lab. I will always be grateful to that woman for deciding to end her life with one last big gift. To be a student working with her (I’ll never know her name, so I called her Edith) was humbling, awe-inspiring, occasionally upsetting, and extremely useful. The models really don’t compare and I know I’m going to be a better health care provider because of it.… Read more »

liz
liz
2 months ago
Reply to  Audrey

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a cadaver and look at all the organs and really see a human body first hand. This was anatomy at a 4 yr college we weren’t med students mostly per-nursing and nobody said anything inappropriate. I honestly think when people make fun of situations like that they are just trying to cope with it. I went to EMT school and on ridealongs the medic and EMT would talk so much junk about the last call and they actually said to me we aren’t being mean we are just trying to cope with what we… Read more »

Rachelle
Rachelle
7 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

I personally prefer the idea of donating my body to science to study rate of decay and want my body to better both humanity and nature. I know this means maggots and grubs which will then follow the whole food chain of life and I love that idea. I hate the idea of burial unless I’m literally thrown in the ground with dirt on top of me. I hate pomp and circumstance. I just would rather that happen than go to a medical facility where I am disseminated by medical students. Could I opt for one or the other rather… Read more »

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago

It’s a really interesting subject – thanks for shedding some light onto how it all works.

Like you said, we might think it’s gross, but anyone who has been treated by (or even delivered by) a trained doctor has benefitted from the donation of bodies.

Karen
Karen
8 years ago

I took a comparative anatomy class at university, in which we dissected humans and cats. It inspired me to donate my body to science, but I didn’t know how to do a whole body donation (only organs) until I saw this. I also sent this article on to my parents because I believe they would want their remains to go to a more useful purpose than fertilizing cemetery grass. Thank you!

javier
javier
8 years ago

I’ll check if it has any healthcare benefit. As I know in Spain the do many medical checks to people interested in donating their body because knowing the medical history helps the research. Don’t know in the USA.

Zach
Zach
8 years ago
Reply to  javier

Spain has one of the highest organ/body donation rates in the world, largely because they have specific people who discuss donation with newly-grieving families (doctors don’t have to have that difficult talk).

Canada has one of the lowest rates for whatever reason, and that makes me sad.

Zach
Zach
8 years ago

I updated my donor status last week, and so I appreciate this article. I was originally against donation to science (but completely for organ donation!) but came to the same conclusion you did… what’s really the difference? I’d prefer my organs go to help people directly, but if they are not viable, then training new doctors and surgeons will help COUNTLESS people in the future. In Canada, being a registered donor doesn’t really mean anything (I’m not sure about the USA, but I guess it’s the same). Many doctors are too shy to ask if someone is an organ donor,… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Zach

Some of the U.S. companies do allow for organ donation. I wonder if any of the Canadian ones do? Worth checking out, since both ideas are important to you.

Aryn
Aryn
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I believe he means the registered organ donor program. It’s the same in the US: you can register to be an organ donor and put the little sticker on your drivers license, but ultimately your family has the right to make the decision after your death. If you want to be an organ donor, discuss your wishes with your family before your death.

Miser+Mom
Miser+Mom
8 years ago

Thanks for this yicky post. I’d looked into this a while back, but was told that I wasn’t eligible — ironically, because I’m a live kidney donor. I’m already missing body parts, so the place I contacted didn’t want the rest of me. But now I might try again . . .

Zach
Zach
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

See, I find that horrible that you aren’t eligible. I’m not a doctor, but I have a hard time believing that a healthy “you” doesn’t still have something to offer.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Zach

@Zach @ Four Pillar Freedom: Some companies deal only in intact cadavers, so even one missing organ wouldn’t be suitable. The medicos-in-training need BOTH kidneys in place. As noted, though, some companies will accept a body with one (or many!) organs donated.
@Miser+Mom: Bless your caring heart (to say nothing of your donated kidney).

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

I have to say you rock! A close family member received a kidney from a live donor.

nichole
nichole
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

I received a kidney and I plan on donating whatever is left to someone else. I know I can’t donate the kidney that was donated to me but I still have viable parts that someone can benefit from.

Kayla Walker
Kayla Walker
7 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

I work in tissue donation and although it is harder to donate your whole body to science after giving a kidney, you could still have individual parts donated for transplantation or research. Just FYI for everyone out there, even when you are an organ donor and they take your skin, eyes, bones, and organs, you still will be able to have an open casket viewing where you can’t tell that anything has been done. If that creeps you out I’m not sure the alternative (rotting in the ground) is any better. You can burn, rot, or live on through someone… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago

Great post Donna! I have a special place in my heart for the man who donated his body to our medical school. Even now, years later when I examine a tiny little old lady’s shoulder in my office, it’s the cadaver’s big frame that I’m seeing in my mind’s eye – his joints and tendons as I try to figure out what’s causing her pain. His gift is one that has allowed me to care for thousands of patients. And yes, as medical students we nervously cracked some jokes. I think humor, even dark humor, was an essential way to… Read more »

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

My Mom and her husband have filled out the paperwork for donating their bodies to science, although they are doing organ/tissue donation first and not whole body.

They want to further science and figure they can’t take it with them so better to help the living.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Donna, you might find the documentary Corpus by Connie Diletti interesting. She explores different ways of disposing of one’s remains. It sounds creepy, but she’s quite humorous. Some of the methods are quite expensive, but the goal is to get people talking about this issues.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’d never heard of it before. Thanks for the suggestion — it sounds like something I’d find interesting.

Joanna
Joanna
8 years ago

Years ago, I had decided to do this (I was in my 20s). Then my parents stole my idea. But it made it easier on us when my father died seven years ago – no funeral arrangements, no bills, no difficult decisions to make during a difficult time. Since I have six siblings, decisions are usually made by committee. So this saved us from the strain and the mess that can result from this situation.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Joanna

I’m sorry for your loss, but glad that none of the sibs decided to rewrite your father’s decision.

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

One thing you can do when you are still alive, bone marrow donation. Only time will tell if you be able to help someone or not but, there’s no harm in registering with them.

Once you are registered and they receive your blood configuration, you are in the national registry of donors. If a match is found with someone who needs bone marrow, you will be called upon to save a life. I am waiting for that feeling, some day…

jen_alluisi
jen_alluisi
8 years ago

Agreed. I am also on the bone marrow registry. I haven’t been called upon, but I’m prepared to donate if I’m needed. It’s so important – my husband’s first cousin is currently in need of a 10-point match to save his life. I’m not a match (and my husband isn’t accepted on the registry because he has Type 1 diabetes) but I joined the registry anyway because if I can save someone else’s child/parent/sibling/cousin, I want to do it.

Christopher
Christopher
6 years ago
Reply to  jen_alluisi

I have donated bone marrow 7 times over the past 10 years. It is extremely painful, although satisfying to meet the person getting the marrow as they thank you for new life.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

I signed up to be a bone-marrow donor after doing a newspaper article about it. Alas, I’ve passed the age limit and they never called. 🙁 Here’s hoping your comment will encourage others to investigate the possibility.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

My friend put her name on the bone marrow registry years ago, and she was just called on to donate last week. With less than 24 hours notice, she went in and did it. My friend is in her late 20s, was pretty much out of commission the day of the donation, but was back in the office for work the next day (though on painkillers!). The recipient’s identity is confidential, but they told her he was a 5 year old with leukemia. I’m so pround of my friend!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Kudos to your friend! Imagine how happy the parents of that child must feel.
One of the people I interviewed said he was achy for a few days — it felt like he’d fallen on an icy sidewalk. (This was in Alaska, so he had some experience with that.) Nothing that an OTC painkiller couldn’t handle, he said.
He also said he was pretty sure the person who was getting his bone marrow was feeling a LOT more pain than he was, which helped keep the owies in perspective.

Emmy
Emmy
8 years ago

Oh, I just registered this month! For January Be the Match is covering the cost of online registration (usually about $100 for cheek swabs and processing) so if anyone is on the fence you can get in today or tomorrow. It’s especially important for mixed race people to donate because those can be tough to match (hapa pride!). Don’t know if I’ll get called or not, but the cost to me to donate is so low and the value to the recipient is so high.

http://marrow.org/Home.aspx

Kim
Kim
8 years ago

I volunteer with a neuroscience education program run through my university’s medical school. Thanks to bodily donations, volunteers in the program have shown thousands of people real human brains — they’ve gotten to hold and examine them and talk about them. People’s reactions when they hold a human brain are amazing. I think those who have donated their bodies to make this demo possible have absolutely done a public service.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Kim

Years ago I toured a university’s gross anatomy lab. During that time I held a person’s heart in my two hands and listened as the tour guide talked about what each body donation meant to a future physician. I was deeply moved by the unknown person’s sacrifice.

That Other Jean
That Other Jean
8 years ago

If you’re planning to donate your body to a medical school, be aware that there are size and weight limits. If you’re very tall or very heavy for your size, they’re not likely to accept you.

Paige
Paige
8 years ago

My great-grandmother donated her body to an anatomy department at a university. She often talked about how she would be “going to the university” after she died. For someone who did not have the option to go to university when she was young, she was thrilled to be going there at all and to hopefully add to the body of knowledge in some way.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Paige

Good for her! One of the folks I interviewed joked about “going to Harvard,” i.e., the Medical School, at some point.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
8 years ago
Reply to  Paige

My grandfather is planning to donate his body to science, partially because his doctor keeps telling him he’s in such excellent health for his age (83).

He hasn’t picked a program yet, but is currently considering “going to Harvard” in the end. I guess that’s one way to get into an Ivy League school! 🙂

John | Married (with Debt)
John | Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

I’ve always thought I’d be cremated, but this could be an option for taking it one step further.

I, too, don’t want to take up space in the ground when I’m dead.

I was hoping to see some financial incentives, other than cost savings, but I guess you have to be careful when you are making dead bodies lucrative.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

If you choose to donate your body it will eventually be cremated. And yes, they don’t want to start the precedent of paying for bodies (hey, we can get $500 for Grandma!) but the savings on cremation arrangements and the fact that your family won’t have to make those arrangements is still considerable.

Elizabeth M H
Elizabeth M H
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Both my grandparents donated their bodies to Vanderbilt University and we received their cremated remains a few years after they passed away.

As a funny aside, I was waiting for college acceptance letters and was very excited when my parents received a package from Vanderbilt. I never applied but thought that they may have miracualously wanted to court me to their school. No, the package was my grandma’s remains. I never went to Vanderbilt but I am glad that somebody did!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth M H

Ha! Too funny. But it could be worse: I once saw a short play about a family gathering at which the deceased relative’s ashes were mistaken for a packet of tea.

Linda
Linda
8 years ago

Someone else has already mentioned Mary Roach’s interesting (and funny, believe it or not) book Stiff from which I first got the idea to donate my body after death. But my first choice would be to donate myself to the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s forensic anthropology program. Their “body farm” has helped build the science of forensics. http://web.utk.edu/~fac/ I would have to leave money in my estate to transport my body there since they only pick up within 200 miles, but I think that would be worth it. And I’d really, really like my body to decay naturally. That may… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Linda

I’ve read about natural burials where you’re buried shrouded only in a natural cotton cloth — everything decomposes! No coffin, no preservation to the body (both can pollute the ground). I’ve heard it’s done in California, but I don’t think it’s come to Canada yet!

I’m claustrophobia, so the idea of being buried in a coffin really creeps me out.

Sonja
Sonja
8 years ago

I actually looked into this a few years back. But to my surprise they didn’t accept any more donors at the time because they already had to big a list to work from. (Netherlands) So I definately didn’t think juck when I read the title.

Once I’m dead, that’s it, I’ll have no use for my body, so whomever wants it for whatever, take it.

The ritual of a burial or cremation is good, but that doesn’t require my corpse to be there.

June
June
8 years ago

This is a great article and something everyone should discuss with their loved ones. Unfortunately, I lost both my parents in my early twenties and not having the burden to make arrangements during this painful time was wonderful. My mother donated her body and both my parents were cremated. Both had modest memorial services. I am on the donor list as well as everyone else in my family. Most people find this to be strange and it floors me. There is still a stigma attached to not having a traditional funeral or a burial plot. Coming from a money conscious… Read more »

ImJuniperNow
ImJuniperNow
8 years ago

Donna – Several years ago I found an article in a woman’s magazine written by a young doctor thanking the lady who donated her body to science. It made me weep. I will find it for you.

Everyone should have an organ donor card in their wallet.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago

If you want to know more what they can use bodies for when donated to science, read the book “stiff”. Again, don’t have control what your body will be used for, including for testing ballistics.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

I agree: the decision should be an informed one. For me, it makes no difference how they use me after I’m dead. For others, it could be the reason they specify “medical school” vs. “firing range.”

GayleRN
GayleRN
8 years ago

I don’t know about other states but in Michigan as a hospital RN I am required to call Gift of Life for every death regardless of circumstance. The Gift of Life team evaluates whether the patient is a potential donor. They also approach the families about donation should there be a potential for donation. Additionally, we must report to Gift of Life any patients who score low on a coma scale and are on life support. These are legal requirements and most of the time take place completely behind the scenes. Relatively few patients qualify for a variety of reasons,… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

So I assume with no body, no funeral, except maybe a memorial service if you’d like? Upon reading the article, I felt a certain way about it, but I’m starting to think its a wonderful idea the more I consider it. 1. Assuming my death is not untimely and at an “appropriate” age, its very unlikely that I will have living family since I am the youngest in my immediate family without any children including nieces/nephews or children of my own. I think it will make things much easier for those in my life – especially if they are not… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I hope that the MS is being managed as well as possible. Have you ever read an essay called “Carnal Acts,” by Nancy Mairs? She writes about her experiences with the disease and how they affect her as a woman. Very interesting stuff.
And I think you’re right: Now is not the time to bring up donation with your family. But it’s the perfect time to research it privately.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Thanks, Donna! I’ve never heard of that book, but I will search for it on my library’s database.

Dawn
Dawn
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

http://www.nationalmssociety.org/research/researchers-need-you/donate-to-tissue-banks/index.aspx People living with MS may hold the key to curing this disease. One way they can make a difference is to arrange to donate their brain and spinal cord tissues when they die. The National MS Society supports two MS tissue banks, which are storage facilities that provide brain and spinal cord tissues to researchers studying multiple sclerosis. These studies generally focus on the pathology of MS – its nature, cause, and effects on the brain – and they are extremely important. A tissue bank is very close to what it sounds like: an area in a laboratory or… Read more »

Ash (in US)
Ash (in US)
8 years ago

Interesting article. I’m still sort of on the fence about body donation, but I want to be cremated anyway, so it’s food for thought. Not sure I’d be okay with the body farm thing, but it does sound fascinating!

The link is broken for the “in event of my death” paperwork. Looks like it has two dates in it.

allen booth
allen booth
8 years ago

No “ew” here. Ever since my grandfather died of ALS and doted his organs, it seems like the perfect approach to me!

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

I am so glad you wrote about this! Of course it’s not for everyone, but I would definitely consider this for myself. Unfortunately, some loved ones might not be to happy with that choice. To me the thought of embalming a body for everyone to look at, then burying it in an expensive hardwood casket is weirder that body donation.

PFM
PFM
8 years ago

Good article, not the usually pf stuff. I like your quote “why is organ donation lauded …”. Exactly our thoughts, we have brought this up with family members who just can’t fathom why we would like our bodies donated to science.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  PFM

I’m not a typically “yuck” person but when reading the book Stiff and getting to the part about human bodies used for ballistics testing, that gave me pause. I mean I guess you can make the argument that better bullets will stop bad guys faster, but really the argument is really thin (bullets are used to kill people). I definitely do not want to dissuade people from donating their bodies to science because there is a real need, especially education-wise. However to be contrary most people see a difference in that organ donation both makes a palpable positive difference in… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

I like your perspective, partgypsy. I too am a private person and haven’t though about my non-organ parts on possible display, or of use in a way that I personally would not agree with, especially my face and “female parts”. Yes I am dead, but I do believe in life after death, an afterlife, and spirit world though I am not traditionally religious. I don’t want to sound “selfish” to the scientific community, but its still my body – even after death.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

The scientific community has no say over your personal feelings. If this isn’t for you, then don’t let anyone guilt you into it.
But for folks who hadn’t considered it, or who are on the fence — I hope that the article encourages you to think this through.

Diedra B
Diedra B
8 years ago

yes, I shuddder. But it’s something we need to discuss. Thanks for presenting an option I had never considered. At this point in my life, I am not interested in anything beyond donating my organs. But I may step my game up later on now that I have read your post.

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago

Whether I agree with Donna or not, her articles never fail to fascinate.

Donating my body science actually sounds like an interesting way to make a lasting impression on the world.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

Thanks, Brenton.

Tessa
Tessa
8 years ago

Amazing!! I’ve wanted to donate my body after my death for years but I didn’t know how to go about doing it. I’ve made it very clear to my friends and family that it’s what I want, but beyond that I didn’t know what to do.

I’m kind of surprised that I’m in the minority there. Makes me sad that other people don’t find it an acceptable alternative to burial or cremation.

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

If someone will benefit from my corpse for a week or two before it’s cremated and my ashes delivered to whoever wants them- what is the harm?

I’ll be dead and unlikely to notice what goes on in the interim between death and cremation (be it crash testing, forensic testing, or the idealized slab on a surgeon in training table).

I think this is quite a noble gesture to set up, personally.

Adam
Adam
8 years ago

A bit of a morbid topic, but an interesting conversation none-the-less. It is illegal to sell body parts (living or dead) in the USA, but there are options of donation as suggested above. Another option is:

http://www.koerperspende.de/en/body_donation/the_body_donation.html

Ginger
Ginger
8 years ago

My mom wanted to be cremated but when I was at community college and found out how much we had to stretch the cadavers in anatomy class, I asked my mom if she would mind being donated to my community college. My school does not have a program to donate bodies but gave me the phone number to the place where they bought them. I found out if we gave my mom’s body to the business for my community college it would save the college over 50% (up to 75%), allowing the school to maybe buy a second cadaver. This… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Ginger

Discounted cadavers! I love it. Thank you for letting us know about the possibility.

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Donna, I cannot thank you enough for this post. I keep dragging my feet on getting my affairs in order. This option is perfect for me and I never even considered it. You are all kinds of awesome. Thank you.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Aw, thanks…I hope you find a medical school or company that’s a match for your personal requirements.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

To Carla above, you may be able to find a specific institution doing research on MS and pre-register with them. Being in a program may get you access to lifetime services. My grandmother did that with a local medical center after she was diagnosed, early on, with Alzheimer’s. Being registered in the program meant she got regular checkups & assessments, had experimental treatments made available to her, and it was pre-arranged that her brain would go to the program with cremation afterward. A lot of people don’t have the mental strength to do what she did – facing up to… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Thanks for the heads up. I do participate in non-pharma research studies at OHSU (Portland) and it has been beneficial in some ways though I still need to go though the process with my own doctor, etc. I will look more into that…

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago

I would suggest anyone interested in donating their body to science read “Stiff” by Mary Roach. It’s an awesome book. I probably won’t donate my body to science after I die because I can’t dictate exactly how it will used (at least as the way I understand it I can’t be sure- after some initial research this may be incorrect). My somewhat paranoid concern is that the research ultimately leads to the discovery of something that could inadvertently be used to harm others in some way. If I can say- “my body is only to be used to dissect in… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

As noted in the article, not every med school will pay for preliminary embalming and transport. That’s one reason these other companies are an option for many.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

If I were a wagering woman, I’d bet that 90% of the readers who saw the headline either shuddered or said “eeewww.” Maybe both. Don’t know if this changes your odds, but I laughed. A few notes/ideas/comments: -Cremation increases greenhouse gases. I used to like the idea of cremation, but why deprive the living of their clean air? -Embalming fluid is nasty and carcinogenic. Last I heard, places like NYC require it, but if you live in less crowded places you could avoid it. -I learned the above fact from a really nice documentary on home burials. Check it: http://www.pbs.org/pov/afamilyundertaking/… Read more »

lineargirl
lineargirl
8 years ago

GRS comes through with timely advice again. I am in the midst of writing a will and wasn’t sure how to address the body donation issue. This article (and comments) gives me a great starting point for my research.

schmei
schmei
8 years ago

This proves once and for all that Donna Freedman is the most interesting contributor to this site – and this is well-timed, as we’re trying to get our wills put together. Thanks!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  schmei

No, thank YOU…and I’m glad this is giving you some food for thought.

celyg
celyg
8 years ago

If you are an organ donor, realize that your body parts (skin, fat, etc) could also be used for cosmetic procedures, not just life-saving ones.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  celyg

Again, it’s a personal choice and everyone has his own comfort level.
But your skin may also be used to help burn victims, so I hope people won’t reconsider donation just because they’re worried they’ll end up on some rich person’s still-living body.

celyg
celyg
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yup, I’m a donor myself. I just think people assume organ donor = live-saving; it’s not the case. I did have second thoughts about my parts being used for cosmetic surgery, but I think the pros of donation outweigh the cons.

B
B
8 years ago
Reply to  celyg

If you go to organdonor.gov, and fill out the donor registration for your state (its separate from the one you do at the DMV), there may be a section for you to specify what body parts you do or do not want donated, and whether they can be used for research. My license also states to write in any exclusions on the back. This is for CT, and its worth a check if you have reservations.

Elle
Elle
8 years ago

Donna, You are my favorite writer on this site (J.D., you’re a close 2nd!). I don’t know of anyone else who can write a funny, informative article on body donation!! Thanks!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Elle

[[blushes, looks down modestly]] Thank you for your kind words, Elle.

Andrew V
Andrew V
8 years ago

Are there any labs that freeze bodies without great cost to the one being frozen? Being brought back to life far in the future would be valuable to science, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what its like 4,000 years from now.

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years ago

The idea of donating your body doesn’t creep me out at all. A body is just a body. Granted, most people don’t realize that until they’ve experience death close to them. Personally, I plan on donating my organs and having the rest cremated. I’d rather my organs save someone now who I know needs it. On a side note, for those who want to save a life now, I recommend signing up for the bone marrow donor list. The procedure is MUCH less painful than in the past–it’s now akin to giving blood. They get your info from a simple… Read more »

Bret Robinson
Bret Robinson
6 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

Finally someone gets it!We are not our bodies, it is just the car we drive when we were attending earth school.No one really dies its only the body that dies we are immortal.So to those who say I dont want this or that to happen to “me” do some spiritual work (not religous)and you wont give a damn about the coat you wore while you where in body.We are duel beings-human body inhabited by conscious energy.Hope this helps with your decision.

Splendor
Splendor
8 years ago

Very informative article & comments. I’ve been educated in the mere ten minutes I’ve been here reading. Personally I couldn’t do it but I do commend those of you considering or already decided on going this route.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

I’ve actually wondered about how this works, so thanks for the information. I have mixed feelings, because I like the idea of my corpse being useful to someone, but I don’t like the idea of people looking at me, you know, without clothes.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

You should definitely do only what you’re comfortable with doing. If the idea of becoming a donor is distressing, then by all means don’t do it.
But as noted: You’ll be dead! You won’t be able to blush.
Also, if you’re to be embalmed for a funeral somebody is going to see you naked. I’m not sure whether they put garments on bodies that are to be cremated. Anyone out there know?

DeeBee
DeeBee
8 years ago

Just a note for anyone considering donating your body to science – check into the rules in your area for agencies accepting cadavers. My friend wanted to donate her body but at the time of her death weighed over the predetermined weight limit for females. Some agencies will not accept people who died of specific diseases as well.

I worked for a medical college for many years. At the end of the academic year they had a ceremony to commemorate the service of the deceased donors. The remains were cremated by the mortician on staff.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  DeeBee

In other words, have a plan B in case you don’t fit the requirement due to health or cause of death.

I like the ceremony idea…

John C. Kirk
John C. Kirk
8 years ago

If you’re in England, the London Anatomy Office deal with this type of thing, and they have more info on their website. I’m considering it; my only concern is that I can’t do that and be an organ donor, so I’m not sure where my body parts would be most useful. Either way, they’re no use to me once I’m dead, so I’m happy for someone else to have them.

Economically Humble
Economically Humble
8 years ago

I am TOTALLY donating my body to science. HRS, you all ROCK and always have interesting posts.

Avcistew
Avcistew
8 years ago

Just so you know, I looked into donating your body to science before, and there are a couple of things you should know: – if you want to donate your organs, in some countries it’s one or the other, you can’t have both – in some countries, you need to pay when you register your body to science, to cover the costs of disposing of the body when they’re done with it. Sometimes it’s more expensive than if you don’t donate it. So it’s not necessarily a good option to save money – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do… Read more »

Me
Me
8 years ago

It is a noble cause if you have family members who support your decision. My grandmother wanted to donate her body to science.

My Uncle (her caretaker) wouldn’t have it. After her death they threw an elaborate viewing and church service (against her wishes). She has a burial plot in the graveyard in town.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

For those in doubt about making a decision like this, they might want to check out Mary Roach’s book, _Stiff_ which discusses different ways that bodies can be used after death as well as the affects of body on the earth, from chemicals to just basic storage issues. It certainly swayed me to donate my body to the local university hospital. Yes, parts of it have a little dark humor but Roach is an excellent writer and makes a compelling case for body donation. I filled out a little form, had it signed by witnesses and my next of kin… Read more »

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