Becoming a whole body donor is a valuable gift to the medical research and education sector. Most people have heard about organ donation, and body donation is a similar process except it involves giving your entire body, organs, and tissues to science. Donating your body is an honorable way to help others in need and give back to future generations, and the donation is considered a treasured asset by researchers, students, and medical professionals alike.
There really is no other substitute to the human body when it comes to helping scientists understand the nature of disease and allowing students to get hands-on learning about human anatomy. Whole body donors have advanced medical research breakthroughs in cancer and heart disease, and have also helped in the development of medical devices that treat acute and chronic illnesses.
Here are five things you should know if you are thinking about donating your body to science:
Prospective donors should be at least 18 years old but there is no upper age limit. The field of medical research is vast, so a body donation from a 96-year old is just as valuable as one from a 25-year old.
There are a variety of nonprofit and for-profit programs that help coordinate the process of body donation. Most programs recommend pre-registration to help prepare you and your family for what is involved. It’s vital that your family members know you are donating your body before you die to prevent any misunderstandings at the time of death.
Planning in advance for body donation also informs you of the screening procedures in terms of what donor programs accept. For example, some organizations may refuse a body if an autopsy was performed, if the body was embalmed, if death was due to a communicable disease, and/or if any organs were removed for transplantation purposes. Some organizations also don’t accept bodies that are severely over/under weight.
A second medical evaluation occurs after death and if the donor still meets the donation requirements the body will be transported to the receiving medical facility. If time permits, family and friends can hold a viewing ceremony beforehand, or they can plan a memorial service for a later date to say a final goodbye to their loved one.
As a whole body donor it is unlikely you will have a say in how your body will be used. Some people want their body donation to contribute to specific medical research, e.g., finding a cure for prostate cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s up to the program directors to decide how best to use donor bodies. This is why it’s best to plan in advance and find a body donation program that matches well with your overall objectives and preferences.
In general there are no direct costs related to donating your body to science, however the family may be responsible for transporting the body to the donation facility (which can be expensive depending on the distance involved). There may also be indirect costs associated with the services of the funeral director, or for filing death certificates and other paperwork.
After the donor body is fully utilized and the educational process is complete, the body and all tissues and organs are cremated at the expense of the medical facility. The cremated remains are then either scattered or returned to the family for final disposition (for a separate fee). Some body donation programs may send information to the family about which research projects the body donor contributed to or participated in, but this is not guaranteed.
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