Have you ever wondered why people donate their bodies to science? Or considered donating your body yourself? In Canada, more and more people are choosing to make the necessary arrangements so that when they die, their bodies will be used to forward scientific progress. Not only are there a number of ways that you can donate your body, but it is relatively simple— as long as you plan ahead!
How do you become an organ donor?
One of the most common ways that Canadians donate their bodies to science is by becoming a registered organ donor. Over the past 10 years, the number of organ donors in Canada has gone up by 44%! But why do people do this? And how? Well, the need for organ donations is, unfortunately, a constant one. Donated organs are used for people whose own organs are failing, and who require a transplant to live.
One organ donor can save up to 8 lives, and improve the quality of up to 75 people's lives! For instance, a kidney transplant won't just save a person's life, but will also dramatically change the quality of the life they are now able to live. Not having to be connected to a dialysis machine means that they are able to move around more freely, and live life more fully!
Registering as an organ donor is relatively simple, and is done by province in Canada. It is also quite easy to qualify, as the health of your individual organs is the most important thing. Common organs that are most needed are kidneys, livers, and hearts. Because of the diverse need for organs, if some of your organs are more healthy than others, you can still qualify!
How to donate your body to research?
Across Canada, medical schools and research institutions rely on the donations of generous people for the cadavers that are used in their research labs. Body donation is different than organ donation, because in this case your entire body is donated and used for medical research and training. Where you can donate your body depends on where you live, and is regulated and overseen provincially. Because of this, when considering full body donation, it is important to see what medical school and research institutions are near to you.
How do you consent?
Donor consent is absolutely mandatory, and can be given in three ways: 1) by filling out a consent form (which is provided by the medical school or institution you want to donate your body to), 2) in writing (as part of a will, for instance), or 3) orally in the presence of two witness. In some cases, a family member of the deceased can give consent on their behalf. Because of this, if you are thinking about being a donor, it is very important that you speak to your family about your wishes!
Are all bodies eligible for donation?
There are many potential reasons for refusal. However, these reasons mainly centre around the ability to preserve the remains. Major traumatic injury or burns, a ruptured aortic aneurysm, unhealed incisions from a recent surgery, or the presence of certain infections like HIV or hepatitis B are all reasons for non-acceptance, as is severe emaciation due to cancer, for example, or extreme obesity. Schools and institutions also won't accept bodies if an amputation, autopsy, or embalming has occurred. Funeral director Nathan Romangioli told Qeepr in an interview that another problem facing donors is the lack of available space. Unlike the days where grave robbers struggled to meet demand, many universities in Canada are full of cadavars and not accepting donations.
What happens to your body after donation?
The opportunity to study human anatomy by working with real cadavers makes an incredible difference for the students— especially those who will go on to be surgeons.
The period of time that a cadaver is kept varies by institution and is based on the consent given by the donor. Some donors agree to donating their body indefinitely, in which case the school may keep the body for as long as it sees fit. Other donors ask that after a designated period of months or years, the body is returned to the family of the deceased. When a body is donated, the body disposition processes (such as cremation and burial) are financed by the school. Medical schools, such as at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto, hold annual memorial services to honour the cadavers used each year. The services are meant to pay respect to the donors, as well as bring closure for the donor's families, and the medical students who have worked with the cadavers. Respect for the cadavers is something that is consistently instilled in the medical students throughout their studies. The opportunity to study human anatomy by working with real cadavers makes an incredible difference for the students— especially those who will go on to be surgeons.
How do you donate to Body Worlds?
If donating your body for research or donating your organs for transplants aren't the routes for you, perhaps donating your body for display is more up your alley? With exhibitions all over the world, Body Worlds displays human bodies for the average person to view and study. The bodies have all undergone a process called plastination, which replaces all fluid and fats in the body with a form of plastic. This process leaves the body in a condition that allows it to be preserved, keeping it from smelling and decomposing.
Donating to Body Worlds is quite easy, and requires a process similar to that you would go through to donate your body to science. Formal consent is required, as well as communication with the Institute of Plastination Body Donation Program in Heidelberg, Germany, where the plastination processes occur. As is the case with fully body donations to medical institutions, the body must be largely intact for it to be accepted. However, the restrictions for Body World's donors are less rigid than with other full body donations.
According to the exhibition's founder, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the main motivation behind the exhibit is to present exposed human and animal anatomy positioned in ways that are true to life. Before Body Worlds, only medical students and physicians had the ability to see the body in all of its complexity. With these exhibits, anyone who is interested in human anatomy and the way the body works can come and marvel at the body's intricacies![divider]
If you are interested in finding out more about how to donate your body to a medical school or research institution near you, here are the main governmental or institutional donor information pages by province:
- Ontario: Ontario Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services
- Québec: Gouvernement du Québec— Donating Your Body to Science
- Manitoba: University of Manitoba Max Rady College of Medicine, Human Anatomy, and Cell Science
- Alberta: University of Calgary Body Donation Program
- British Columbia: University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine Body Program
- Nova Scotia: Dalhousie University Human Body Donation Program
- Newfoundland & Labrador: Memorial University Anatomical Gift Program