Donating Your Body to Science | Disadvantages of Donating Your Body to Science
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What to know about donating your body to science

There are several common misconceptions about donating your body to science (a.k.a. anatomical donations), such as which organizations accept bodies for donation.

There are three types of organizations that accept bodies for donation:

  • Medical schools
  • Medical research firms
  • For-profit companies that resell your body to different organizations

Generally, donating your body happens through medical schools. Just because you want to donate your body does not mean it will happen.  In New Hampshire, there is only one facility approved for accepting body donations, and that is Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. In New Hampshire, about 70% of people that sign up to be a body donor get accepted.

Medical schools do not need all of the anatomical donations that are available, and often will not accept a donor body. Most schools also require the individual to pre-register and fill out the necessary forms well in advance.  If you do register to donate your body but change your mind, you can cancel your registration.

Basic body donation process

  • You register in advance
  • Upon your death, your family contacts the school you registered with, and if your body meets the necessary criteria, they will handle all expenses of picking-up the body
  • The organization typically utilizes the body for up to two years, at which point they will then cremate the body at their expense and return it to the next of kin

The main benefits of body donation are the training it gives aspiring doctors. Additionally,  it removes some of the financial burden off of the family.

There are research companies that will also allow you to donate your body.  One of the largest is ScienceCare. Some for-profit companies also accept body donations to dissect a body and send parts all over the world. For example, there are companies that use the deceased as crash test dummies for  ballistic tests. If you are considering this option for any reason, read the disclosures carefully about what companies are allowed to do with your body.

There are also brokers online that claim: “We can get you a cremation for $300. We can get you a free cremation with a medical body donation company.” Cremation is cheaper than a burial and full funeral service, but not that cheap. A basic cremation package, without an urn, is about $2,500. Make sure to do your research so you know the remains you receive are truly those of your loved one and in the case of a medical body donation, you understand how the body will be used and are comfortable with it.

You are not limited to donating your body to an institution in the state where you reside.  For example, residents of New Hampshire can make arrangements for donations with any of the several medical schools in Massachusetts. In most cases, the supply far exceeds the demand and most people wanting to donate their body are not able to do so.

The decision to donate your body to science can only be made by you in advance when you are of sound mind. Families cannot donate a loved one’s body to a medical school. The primary reason for rejection is that the medical school doesn’t need any more bodies at that time.

There is a cost to donation

Some assume there is no fee to donate your body to science. In fact, there is almost always a cost in doing so, but many medical schools and anatomical research facilities will reimburse the family for part or  all of the expenses. 

When you donate your body to science, there is no casket, embalming or any funeral expenses in the traditional sense.  There are charges to move the body from the place of death to the medical school, to file the death certificate, to notify social security and to assist the family with scheduling any memorial services. 

These fees can be a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars depending upon where the medical school is located and the type of assistance the family will need in coordinating the above mentioned items. The good news is that most of these fees will be offset by a reimbursement from the medical school or research institute.  However, donating your body will, in most cases, involve the services of a funeral home in some way.

Body donation and organ donation

Body donation is not the same as organ donation. Organ donation is the designation you put on your driver’s license: “I want to donate my kidney at the time of death. I want to donate my cornea or my lungs.” Organ donation has no impact on funeral services. You can still be cremated, still have a traditional funeral, and still do all the things that you want to do. Body donation is donating your entire body to science.

Also, before you donate your body, you should find out what happens with the remains after the institution is completed with them.  In some cases, the remains are cremated and returned to the family. In other cases, nothing is returned.  If this is a concern to you and your family, you should ask this well in advance of your decision.

Disadvantages of donating your body to science

The biggest drawback of donating your body is that your family cannot have a service with the body present. You can have a memorial service without a viewing. In some cases, the funeral home will allow for immediate family to have a closed viewing, much like an identification viewing. Your family would be required to pay for a service, death certificate and monument if they wish to have these.

A misnomer is that people think they’re going to get paid for the donation. This is not true. However, medical schools will typically assist with some or all of the transportation costs to the medical school. What they don’t pay for is obituaries, death certificates, memorial services, and other aspects of funeral planning. That’s the responsibility of your family.

Donating your body is a very noble gesture and is one of the ways to help further medical research and assist in the training of future physicians. There are factors to consider when deciding whether or not to donate your body, including your final wishes, financial considerations and purpose. Before you consider donating your body, you should discuss your wishes with your family and maybe also your attorney.

Remember, if you are considering donating your body, have a back-up plan for funeral or cremation arrangements in the likely case you are not able to be a donor.

This post answers the questions:

What do you need to know about donating your body to science?

What are the disadvantages of donating your body to science?

What do you need to know about donating your body to science?

Generally, donating your body happens through medical schools. Just because you want to donate your body does not mean it will happen. In New Hampshire, there is only one facility approved for accepting body donations, and that is Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. In New Hampshire, about 70% of people that sign up to be a body donor get accepted.
Medical schools do not need all of the anatomical donations that are available, and often will not accept a donor body. Most schools also require the individual to pre-register and fill out the necessary forms well in advance. If you do register to donate your body but change your mind, you can cancel your registration.

What are the disadvantages of donating your body to science?

The biggest drawback of donating your body is that your family cannot have a service with the body present. You can have a memorial service without a viewing. In some cases, the funeral home will allow for immediate family to have a closed viewing, much like an identification viewing. Your family would be required to pay for a service, death certificate and monument if they wish to have these.
A misnomer is that people think they’re going to get paid for the donation. This is not true. However, medical schools will typically assist with some or all of the transportation costs to the medical school. What they don’t pay for is obituaries, death certificates, memorial services, and other aspects of funeral planning. That’s the responsibility of your family.

Preplanning your final arrangements ensures that your family understands your final wishes and alleviates a great deal of stress.

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