Donate Your Body to Science

Monday, December 29, 2008

For some people, making a contribution to society doesn't stop with their death. Many choose to donate their organs, and some opt to donate their body to science. For those who do the latter, it's often because the life of someone they care about (or their own) was saved with medical technology or a certain procedure, and there's a desire to "give back" so that more treatments can be developed, and more lives can be saved.[1] Learn how to make this choice, discuss it with your family, and fill out the paperwork to give your body to science.

Choose between donating your organs or donating your body to science. Generally, you cannot do both. If you donate your body to science, you can donate your corneas, but not the rest of your organs.[1] Another option is to donate your brain to brain bank, where researchers study conditions that affect or stem from the brain.
Contact facilities that accept whole body donation. Do your homework, and make arrangements with the facility of your choice.

* Do a search for "willed body program" and your city or state to find out about medical schools, hospitals, and research facilities in your area that are seeking whole body donations.[2]
* One thing you definitely want to ask about is up-front costs. Sometimes there is a charge for a body to be picked up from the hospital and transferred to the medical school.
* Ask for a registration packet. Usually this will contain details, as well as a consent form stating your desire to donate your body. That form needs to be completed, returned, and acknowledged. Put a copy of the consent form with your will. You may also get a wallet card to notify people of your intention to donate at the time of death. Carry it with you at all times.
Inform your doctor and family members. Ultimately, it will be up to your next-of-kin to follow through with the donation. If your decision is a surprise to them, or if they are against the idea, there could be delays in getting your body to the appropriate facility in time. Also, they will not be able to hold a funeral with your body present. They should be prepared for this, since it may affect their ability to find closure. Discuss with them that they can still hold a memorial service, or attend an a commemoration service at the facility where your body was donated.
Determine what you want for your body after it has been studied. Generally, the school will cover the cost of cremation once the body is no longer being used for study, and some schools have a cemetery plot where they will bury the bodies if that is requested. If your next-of-kin want the remains to be given back to them, however, they may end up having to cover the costs of cremation or burial.
Make alternative arrangements. Some bodies are not suitable candidates for medical school study, such as if a major operation was undertaken before death. Think about what you want done if you are unable to donate your body to science.

You can cancel your decision at any time by contacting the school and notifying them in writing.[3]
Visit a medical school memorial ceremony, where the people who donated their bodies are honored. For many people who consider donating their bodies to science, a major concern is whether the body will be treated with respect. Visiting one of these ceremonies and talking to students who've benefited from such donations can help you feel more comfortable about your decision.
You may be able to learn more about the process by contacting a local funeral home. They may be able assist you in understanding your options and how to handle some of the practical challenges, such as transport of your body.

You cannot specify what kinds of studies your body will be used for. Anatomical study through dissection is not always the case. Researchers in criminal forensics, for example, may expose cadavers to various environments in order to observe how they decompose.[2] Make sure you research these possibilities and concerns before you make your decision.
Your body will not be used if the death was caused by suicide.


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