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How to Donate your Body to Science

What does it mean to donate your body to science?

Donating your body to science, also referred to as whole body donation or anatomical gifting, is the process of donating your body to a scientific organization (such as a medical school) after you die. In many cases, this means that your corpse will be used for either medical research or to help train medical students.

What are the benefits of donating your body to science?

Body donation programs are a key to both medical training and medical research, and many universities have a shortage of donated cadavers. Many body donors choose to become donors because they feel that it is a way for them to continue to be useful and serve a greater purpose, even after their deaths.

A second benefit of whole body donation is that the organization generally covers transportation, as well as cremation costs once they’ve finished use of the donated cadaver. As a result, whole body donation is generally significantly more affordable than other funeral options. Many organizations will return the cremains to the family, free of charge, at the end of the process which can make body donation an extremely affordable option for any family.

What kinds of organizations can you donate your body to?

Medical schools: University anatomical donation programs are often preferred by donors due to their nonprofit status and general transparency into what their donated bodies are used for (although usually not on an individual basis). Donated bodies are integral to medical schools as they allow future clinicians to gain experience that they'd otherwise not have access to. For those that graduated from a university with an anatomical gift program, it can also be a meaningful way to give back to their alma mater. View a list of university anatomical donation programs.

Forensic research: While not as prevalent as medical programs, forensic research donation programs are another great way to donate your body to important research. These research facilities generally teach forensic students important factors about body decomposition and influence guidance given to police for evaluating crime scenes, meaning your cadaver will contribute to solving major crimes. Unfortunately, facilities are limited, so many Americans don’t live close enough to make body donation practical. That being said, if you’re interested in the option, you may want to check out these facilities:

For-profit companies: For-profit companies, such as Science Care and BioGift, act as brokers for donated bodies. These companies generally make the donation process very easy, cover all costs, and return some cremated ashes to the family. In addition, your body may still be used for valuable medical research. However, some people prefer to avoid them because they profit off of donated bodies and a body is more likely to be divided up and sent to multiple facilities. If you're uncomfortable with the thought of a body being sent to multiple facilities or with a body being sent somewhere you'd prefer it not be sent, it may be a good idea to search for other body donation organizations.

BodyWorlds: If you’re passionate about art, health or anatomy, you may want to consider donating your body to BodyWorlds, a series of global exhibits that display plastinated human corpses and have attracted more than 44 million visitors. According to the website, the exhibits “were conceived to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and to show the effects of healthy and unhealthy lifestyles.” Learn how to become a donor.

What is the process of donating your body to science?

Every organization has a slightly different process, but most encourage you to register with them in advance. If this is something that you’re interested in for yourself, we recommend that you find the organization that you want to register with, go through the process, and then share the information with your family members so that they know what to do when you pass away. When you pass away, your family will be instructed to contact the organization as soon as possible, so that they can come retrieve your body.

Can a body be donated to science post-death?

While some organizations require donors to register in advance, many allow the next of kin to donate a body. If you’re interested in donating the body of a relative that has just passed away, we recommend checking the website of your preferred organization.

Can you still have a funeral if you donate a body to science?

While the term “funeral” technically suggests that the body is present at the service, it is very common to have a memorial service or celebration of life for someone whose body has been donated. There are thousands of ways you can chose to honor someone’s life, with some event ideas listed on our site.

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Last updated May 31, 2022
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