There are many things we can do with our bodies after we die. We can bury them, cremate them, or send our ashes into space. But what about donating your body to science in the United States? The options for body disposal are endless but more and more people are choosing to make the necessary arrangements to have their bodies used to forward scientific progress. If you want to make a difference, even in death, the process isn’t very difficult so long as you plan ahead.
But while 95% of Americans support organ donation, only 48% are registered organ donors.
Donating My Body to Science in the United States
How to Become an Organ Donor
The need for organ donations is, unfortunately, a constant one. Donated organs are given to people whose own organs are failing, and who require a transplant to live. But while 95% of Americans support organ donation, only 48% are registered organ donors.
The facts are quite simple: one organ donor can save up to 8 lives, and improve the quality of up to 75. 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 as well as the lives of their families. 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 your state in the U.S. It is also quite easy to qualify, as the health of your individual organs is the most important thing. 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!
Donating your Body to Research?
Medical schools and research institutions in the U.S. depend on the generous donations of Americans for the cadavers used for research. Unlike organ donation, body donation involves donating your entire body for medical research and training. Body donation is regulated by state, so where and if you can donate is entirely dependent upon where you live. So if you are considering body donation, you should research which medical institutions and research centres are in your area.
How do you consent to donating your body?
One of the most important parts of the body donation process is giving consent. A potential donor can give consent in a few different ways. First, consent can be given by completing the consent form provided by a given medical school or research institution. Second, consent can be given in writing, or third, consent can be given orally in the presence of two witness. Because clear consent is such a necessary part of making a donation, it is important that, when you give your consent, you let your family know. This will help avoid any confusion about your final wishes.
Are all bodies eligible for donation?
There are numerous reasons why a donation might be refused. Most body donation programs have specific guidelines for bodies they will and will not accept. Generally, programs will not accept bodies that are positive for Hepatitis (A, B, and C), HIV/AIDS, history of illegal drug use, or fall within an extreme category for their BMI. The embalming process adds even more weight to the donor’s body, so if they have a high BMI the programs may not take them because they cannot handle the weight of the donor after embalming.
Major traumatic injury or burns, a ruptured aortic aneurysm, and unhealed incisions from a recent surgery are also reasons for non-acceptance, as is severe emaciation due to cancer, for example. If an amputation, autopsy, or embalming has already occurred schools and institutions may not accept a body. We spoke with funeral director Nathan Romagnoli who told Keeper 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 and research institutions in the U.S. are full of cadavers and not accepting donations.
Where can I donate?
There are many private body donation programs in the U.S. Each of these private programs accepts bodies from certain surrounding areas. In the U.S., you have the option of either donating your body directly to the medical school or institution of your choice, or to a third-party organization. These organizations, such as Science Care and BioGift, act as intermediaries between the donors and research institutions. The upside of donating through a third-party organization is that you are assured that your body will be donated to an institution after your death. Otherwise, while you may have a particular institution in mind, at the time of your death, that institution may not be able to accommodate your donation. However, applying directly to a specific school or research centre is still possible, and a popular option. You can find a complete directory of all major American medical schools and research institutions here.
Cadavers are kept for varying lengths of time. This depends on the institution, as well as the wishes of the donor. For instance, some donors explicitly request that their remains are returned to their family after a certain period of time. Most institutions will also cover the costs of the body disposition processes, such as cremation and burial. This makes body donation a financially friendly option for many families. In addition, most medical schools now hold memorial services to pay tribute to the cadavers that are used each academic year. These services thank the donors and their families, but are also intended to give closure to the medical students who have worked with the cadavers over the year. Respecting the cadavers and acknowledging the generosity of the donors is something that is highlighted throughout the medical students’ studies.
Donating Your Body to a Body Farm
If you’ve never heard of a Body Farm before, the title may bring 1000 strange things to mind. But these amazing research centres are actually at the front lines of forensic research! A body farm is a research facility where decomposition can be studied in a variety of settings. The goal is to get a better understanding of decomposition processes, helping with the development of techniques for analyzing and gaining information (such as the timing and cause of death) from human remains. There are a total of 6 body farms in the United States, the most famous being at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville Forensic Anthropology Centre.
This facility consists of a 2.5-acre wooded plot, surrounded by a razor wire fence. At any one time there will be a number of bodies placed in different settings throughout the facility and left to decompose. All donations received by this particular Body Farm (over 100 per year!) are placed in the centre’s outdoor research facility. The bodies are exposed in a number of ways in order to provide insights into decomposition under varying conditions. Observations and records of the decomposition process are kept, including the sequence and speed of decomposition and the effects of insect activity. These bodies are studied by students of the university, but are also used in the training of law enforcement officers in scene-of-crime skills and technique.[divider]
Interested in donating your body to science, but living in Canada? Fear not! TalkDeath has all the information you need right here!