How Do I “Donate My Body To Science” When I Die?

I’m sure you’ve heard the concept of “donating one’s body to science”. In fact, if you’re at a cocktail party and the topic turns to die and burials (fun party, huh?) you’ll invariably hear someone claim that they’re “going to have their body donated to science”. Chances are, they don’t really understand what that means or how to do it. But you will, because over the next few short minutes I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the process.

We’ll start this story in the university lab. There, lying still and quiet on a table before the eager medical students is a body for them to study and work on. How did it get there? This person was one of those at a cocktail party who donated their body to science. So yes, it really does happen, and in this university, classroom is living proof! Well, not living… but proof nonetheless! About 10,000-20,000 people each year make this choice in the United States.

The How and Why:

Most do it because they feel like they’re giving back to society, to progress, to science. And they are. These donated bodies are a huge help to the study of medicine and disease. Medical students get a realistic study of anatomy and surgery; researchers are able to make progress on their study of diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and heart disease.

The first step in this process is contacting an organization who will handle the details of this for you. You will certainly want to set all of this up in advance of death. Things become complicated if these provisions weren’t specified ahead of time. These organizations can help you navigate any city or state-specific requirements. Depending on your state, here are a few organizations to contact:

How much does it cost?

Good question. In almost every case where the person is within the state, nothing. The organization you contact will be pleased to provide this service for free. In some cases, they may even pay a small stipend to help with any costs you may incur.

Oftentimes the body will be returned to the family in case the person’s wish was to both be donated to science and have a burial in the place of their choice, possibly with a loved one, a pre-paid burial plot, or a cemetery of sentimental meaning to the family. You may even have a funeral ceremony first before the body is transported to the donation organization. If there is no desire to return the body to the family, often a cremation will be provided free of charge.

If you are a veteran you may be wondering if there is a special program through the VA you should go through? No there’s not. You will simply contact any one of the private organizations. However, any special burial arrangements you might be entitled to because of your veteran status are still in effect, so you can have any particular military burial that you would have otherwise planned.

Who Can Qualify?

Ask the organization you contact what their parameters are for donation. Most likely, you’ll qualify. Some bodies will not, however. If a body has been severely burned, for example, it may not be usable in most studies. If a body is morbidly obese it may not qualify either, as well as a body that died from a severe contagious disease. Age is not a factor, however.

If you are also donating organs, be aware that this may disqualify you from the organization you have selected, so make sure you ask and clarify this up front.

In Conclusion:

Donating your body to science is just one more selfless act you can perform while you’re still on this Earth. It’s a great way to “pay it forward” and many people feel good that they won’t be making yet another “footprint” on the Earth with a burial plot. Search around for the right organization for you to help you with this process. You’ll want to find one that shares your values and goals. And at a typically zero cost, you can’t go wrong.