For some, donating their body to science is a way to help society. The hope is that by contributing to science, they may, in some small way, help to find a cure for deadly diseases like cancer. For others, the driving force behind donation is reducing cost since donating your body to science means that you will be able to avoid the cost of a funeral and burial.
Regardless of the motivation, donating your body to science is a very personal decision, and it is not for everyone. You should consider your cultural and religious decisions, your family wishes, and your financial situation. The first step is to learn as much as you can about the process, ask questions, and discuss the option with your loved ones.
Important: Donating your body to science is a great way to reduce your end-of-life costs. In most cases, you will know in advance if you are a good candidate. It is possible, however, that your loved ones won’t find out if your remains have been accepted until after your death. It is important that you create a backup plan just in case. Visit our funeral arrangements page for step-by-step guidance.
How does donating your body to science work?
Donating your body to science is a relatively straightforward process. Below are the steps you’ll need to follow.
Step 1: Find an appropriate donation organization. Many medical schools offer full body donation programs. There are also private companies that accept bodies. Start by looking for programs in your general area since this can make transportation easier. We have included some resources at the bottom of this page to help you find a group that is a good fit for you.
Step 2: Contact the organization and pre-register. It is not necessarily a requirement that you pre-register, but it can make the process go more smoothly. Some organizations have requirements that may prevent them from accepting certain bodies. Making arrangements ahead of time can help you narrow your list down to a program with which you are compatible.
Step 3: Find out what your obligations are. Many programs will cover all the expenses including transportation and cremation. You want to be sure that you are fully informed so that you can plan accordingly.
Step 4: Talk with your loved ones. It is important that the people who will be making your arrangements know what you have in mind. If they aren’t aware that this is what you have in mind, it could cause complications when the time comes. Let your family know if you have taken care of all the necessary paperwork or if they will need to fill out forms at your time of death.
Step 5: Update your legal paperwork. If you intend to donate your body to science, you should include your instructions in your will.
Step 6: Create a backup plan. Unless plans are being made for someone who is close to death, things can change over time. In the unlikely event your situation takes a turn and your body is no longer eligible for donation, you should have alternative arrangements. For many people who are considering body donation, cremation is a good alternative. For more on cremation visit our cremation pages.
Step 7: Decide on funeral/memorial options. A popular misconception is that if you choose whole body donation you can not have a funeral. This is not true. You can still have an open casket funeral when you donate your body to science. However, many people who choose to donate prefer to hold a memorial service. If you need information on planning your funeral we recommend that you visit our Celebrations of Life page.
Donating your body to science: questions and answers.
Can I still have a funeral if I donate my body to science?
Yes! You can still have a full funeral with an open casket if you donate your body to science. You should contact the organization that will be handling your donation to get more specific information on how the events will need to be timed.
Will my religion allow me to donate?
Most major religions permit individuals to donate both their full body and organs. Many even encourage it. If you are unsure, you should consult with your pastor or spiritual adviser.
Is indicating donation on my driver’s license enough?
No. You can indicate your preference to have your organs donated on your driver’s license but you will need to make special arrangements with a medical or scientific organization in order to donate your full body.
Can I get paid for donating my body to science?
No. Federal Law prohibits payment for bodies.
How do I find out about body donation programs?
There are several ways you can find information on programs that accept full body donation. We have included links to some good resources for this type of information below. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet or you can consult with a local funeral director.
Can I still donate specific organs if I donate my whole body?
Whether or not you can donate organs as well as your body will depend on the program in which you are enrolled. Some private scientific companies permit organ donation while many educational programs do not. If you would like to donate both, you should make arrangements with the donation program you are enrolled in.
Are all bodies accepted?
There are cases where institutions decline a body that is donated. Communicable disease, extreme obesity, and other conditions may lead to an individual being declined. Most organizations make every effort to honor the decision to donate. You need to make sure that you pre-register since many programs do not accept donations that are not pre-arranged.
Can I request that my body be used in a certain scientific study?
No, you cannot typically request that your donation be used for a particular study. Research organizations do not always know in advance what projects they will be working on when they receive a donation and priorities change. Once you decide which group you will be working with, you can ask them directly if you can request a particular project but, it is unlikely that the request will be honored.
Are there other options besides medical groups?
Some people choose to donate their bodies for use in forensic research rather than medical research. In these cases, your body will be used on a “body farm.” Body farms are properties where bodies are left to decompose under a variety of conditions. There is no charge to donate and you can typically donate your organs as well as your body. It is important that you make arrangements ahead of time.
Donating your Body to Science Resources
- Listing of U.S. body donation programs (published by the University of Florida): http://anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms/
- BioGift (Private Anatomical Donation Program): http://www.biogift.org/index.php
- Science Care (Private Anatomical Donation Program): http://www.sciencecare.com/
- Organdonor.gov: https://www.organdonor.gov/about/facts-terms/donation-faqs.html
- International Association for Organ Donation: www.iaod.org