Whole Body Donations


One option to be considered by anyone creating an estate plan is whether or not to donate all or part of your body to medicine or science.  Medical schools take “whole body” donations to be used for research and instruction.  These donations will be rejected if any organs have been removed from the body.  When deciding what to do with your remains, it is important to keep this in mind.  You can donate your body or your organs, but not both.  Here is how whole body donation works.

Institutions are not allowed to pay for any donations.  However, there is little to no cost to the family when a body is donated.  Some who are trying to avoid the high costs of funerals and cremations are choosing body donation instead.  The medical school or research facility may have a program that will dispose of the remains when research and study are complete.

There are two ways a body may be donated – through a written and executed will or by informed consent of next of kin.  The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act provides the requirements for registering your donation in advance as well as advice for alerting your next of kin to your wishes.  If there are no written instructions, but your next of kin are aware of your wishes, they may contact an organization at the time of your death to give their consent.

A person who wishes to donate their body at their death may contact a medical school directly in order to arrange for the donation.  There is also a National Anatomical Service which can inform a potential donor of their local options.  The NAS has a 24-hour phone service at 1-800-727-0700.

Some of the other organizations that assist in whole body donations are Research for Life, Science Care, BioGift, MedCure.  Be sure to investigate the organization you choose.  The American Association of Tissue Banks and the American Medical Education and Research Association provide accreditation for non-transplant organizations that accept whole body donations.

This is a situation in which it is best to be sure your wishes are clear to your friends and family.  If they are not aware of your wishes, it could turn into a mess for your loved ones.  Having written instructions as well as the understanding of those you care about is the best option.