Gift of Life: Whole Body Donation

As we age, many of us find our thoughts turning to the legacy we will leave behind when our time on this earth has ended. Depending on your circumstances, that legacy can take many forms – a charitable bequest or a scholarship for your grandchildren, for example. One thing is certain, though: your legacy is the opportunity of a lifetime – your chance to make a real difference in someone else’s world.

When it comes to legacies, the old adage holds true: some of the best things in life are free. There are legacies that cost nothing (in fact, they may save money for your estate) and yet are more precious and can impact more lives than any financial or material gift you can give.

Organ and tissue donations save lives on a one-to-one basis, engendering gratitude in the recipients and their families. Then there is whole body donation. The act of willing one’s body to science has the potential to impact the course of medical science and countless lives.

Anatomy courses use human cadavers in teaching the healthcare professionals and medical scientists of tomorrow, and biomedical researchers use cadavers to conduct studies in the hope of finding cures for serious illnesses and ways to improve the quality of life for countless patients who suffer from deadly or debilitating disease. By donating your body to a medical school, you will play an indispensable role in those efforts.

How to Donate Your Body

The steps to donating your body to medical science are simpler than you might imagine.

  1. Find a medical school or anatomical donation program. Start by calling the medical school nearest you to ask if they accept anatomical donations. If they are unable to accept your donation, they may be able to direct you to a medical school or program that can. You can also search the Internet for “donate body to science,” “anatomical donation,” or “whole body donation.” The donation of bodies is essentially unregulated, but you can contact the American Association of Tissue Banks ( to find out if the donation program you’re interested in is accredited.
  2. Ask about the program’s procedural and financial guidelines. Each medical school and donation program has its own procedures and requirements. Although there is no cost to donate your body in most circumstances, some programs may require you to pay costs for transportation or embalming. Still, the incidental costs that may be associated with donating are typically far less than the cost of traditional burial or cremation. Note that a program cannot pay you or your family for your body – such arrangements are against the law. Also, be sure to ask if there are any medical restrictions on donations. Some programs will not accept bodies from people who have HIV or hepatitis, for example. You may also want to know things like how long the program will hold your body, whether they will handle cremation and return your ashes to your family, etc.
  3. Once you’ve chosen a recipient for your donation, request donation forms, complete and return them to the medical school or program, and put a copy in your safe deposit box or other safe place.
  4. Discuss your decision with your family. Let them know that your organs should not be harvested for donation when you die because you have arranged a whole body donation. Likewise, your family should not consent to a post mortem examination (or autopsy). Let them know who they should call and what they must do to notify the medical school or program when you die. Time is of the essence; be sure to have these discussions with your family in advance, so they can carry out your wishes immediately upon your death.

Share Your Experience

Has anyone in your family willed their body to science? Have you made arrangements to donate your own body? Or do you have religious objects or other misgivings about whole body donations? Please use this forum to share your experience with others.

Discuss: Gift of Life: Whole Body Donation

One Response
  • My mother was age 96 at death. I donated her body to medical research. Our hospice worker arranged everything for me, prior to the death. Now when I die, I wish to donate my body also. However, I have heard there is an issue with receiving bodies of obese deceased folks. In the event, I exceed acceptable wt limits to donate whole body to medical research, then I wish to be creamated.

    Before donating my mother’s body, I discussed cremation with her religious leaders, as well as my pastor. Cremation was best option for us, as I am only child, we moved around the US a great deal, in the end, honestly, all our choices were dictated by the financal aspect of her death. She lived a long and wonderful life, family members were geographically scattered, she outlived her most of her peer group, it was realistically, the best choice.

    BTW, my mother’s ashes were returned from the medical research facility to us. She goes where we go, as we RV a lot:) I am so thankful to have found your website on a friend’s facebook page, now I can arrange to share her ashes with her grandchildren.

    Comment by Anne Blair — December 24, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

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