How to Donate Your Body to Science

Body DonationsIf you’ve ever watched CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) on television or if you’ve heard rumors about body farms and – yes – body snatching, then it’s time to set records straight. Donating a body to science isn’t as morbid or as mysterious as it sounds. If your religious beliefs allow you to think about this after-life option, here are some tips on how and why body donations might make sense:

  1. First, begin by searching for an accredited tissue or body bank. Currently, tissue banks do not need to meet accreditation standards, so an organization that seeks accreditation may be a sign of a company that promises respect for your remains and for your family’s wishes.
  2. You can find accredited organizations through the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Beginning in 1986, the AATB initiated a mandatory Accreditation Program for its institutional members to ensure that tissue-banking activities are performed in a professional manner in compliance with these their established standards. This group sets the ethical guidelines for the recovery of body cells and tissues in a way that is respectful to the donor and that donor’s family.
  3. Another option would be to choose a local medical school or university. No matter which organization you choose, they send a packet of forms to fill out along with documentation about policies and procedures.
  4. Most tissue banks want to know answers to medical questions, and some may want a complete medical history. The reason for these questions is that you can be turned down for donation. Unfortunately, people who have HIV/AIDS, a history of hepatitis B and/or C, tuberculosis and syphilis cannot donate their bodies to science. You also cannot be accepted for donation if you are obese or if a coroner has already performed an autopsy. There are no upper age limits in donation of a human body to medical science.
  5. Once you decide on a tissue bank and they accept your application, you – and possibly a family member – can fill out consent forms. The organization you choose sends out a donor card at this point, so that others know that you’ve donated your body or – as an option – your organs to science.
  6. Finally, let family members and loved ones know about your decision. When you donate your body to science, there is no need for family members to contact a coroner. Instead, most tissue banks inform you that – along with the authorities – they need to be contacted as soon as possible after your death so they can arrange to transport your body to the proper facility.

Questions to Ask

  1. In many cases, your donation to science is free, but some tissue banks charge for body transportation fees. Under no circumstance should you expect to be paid to donate your body to science, as that is an illegal practice.
  2. Some tissue banks cremate your remains and bury them at no cost to the family. Other tissue banks return cremated remains if the family desires. Time allocated for the cremation and burial options usually run from three to five weeks. With that said, some ‘projects’ that use body tissue may take from three to five years to complete. In most cases, no matter the time frame, the family usually prepares a memorial service to help the survivors to honor a death so that the time involved with the body donation doesn’t interfere with current burial traditions.
  3. Cremation is the only option for remains after tissue donation, as tissue harvesting is disfiguring. You – and, in some cases, your family – must be comfortable with this option.
  4. You can ask how your body (or organs) might be used. Be prepared for some unusual answers (see next section).
  5. Organ donations and whole body donations are two separate programs. You, as a potential donor, must make the decision based upon the difference. With very few exceptions, a whole body donation is impossible when organs are donated. The only exception is the donation of an eye cornea, which can be donated without affecting the body donation.
  6. There is no absolute security that you can avoid the cost of a burial with a body donation program. Many bodies have been rejected at death for various reasons, including death by infectious disease. So, you might want to prepare an alternate burial plan to spare your family the chore and expense.

Why Body Donation is Important

  1. If you are of the mind that you want to help advance medicine, cures for cancer and neurological disorders, new treatment for Alzheimer’s, less invasive surgical methods for brain tumors and new insights into criminal investigations, then a body donation to science is up your alley. There is a major shortage of human tissue in this country, and many advancements are impeded by that shortage.
  2. Surgeons also need real-life operating experiences, as do firefighters and paramedics. So, be prepared, if you ask about the future of your remains, to be presented with some unusual situations. In most cases, unfortunately, you cannot request that your body be used for a specific purpose.
  3. Some of these situations include learning how bodies react to rot, crash tests for automobiles, testing for protective military equipment and other experimental techniques. Before your mind wanders too far, remember that the organization that is accredited has promised to respect your body and your family’s wishes. With that said, also remember that you cannot request a specific use for your remains.
  4. No matter if you consider yourself to be charitable or stingy in life. In death, the donation of your remains to science is the ultimate altruistic act, as it allows many scientists, medical personnel and volunteers learn how to save others.

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