As an alternative to traditional burial, funeral, or cremation, whole body donation offers the chance to make a contribution that benefits others. By providing a vital service and a pathway to greater knowledge and discovery, you can help save lives, advance medical research and education, and improve quality of life for families and the community.
The most common question about how to donate is, “who can donate?” Many people meet criteria for donation, including people with cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Pre-registration is usually not required though you should check with the specific program you are considering. Plus, you can often choose to be both a whole body donor and an organ donor for transplant. It doesn’t have to be just one or the other. By donating your whole body to research, you live on by allowing doctors, surgeons and medical students the ability to study new life-saving medical and surgical procedures, techniques and treatments.
There is an overwhelming need for both organ and whole body donors. Whole body donation for medical research and training furthers the knowledge and skills of physicians and surgeons, and improves the quality of life for future generations of patients. Organ donation for transplant is equally important. There are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
A life-affirming choice, donation is also a highly individual decision. It is important to research the program that best fits your needs and wishes. Donation is typically no cost to the donor or family, and each donor and family is treated with compassion, care, respect and dignity. Typically the program also provides cremation at no cost along with the filing of the death certificate.
Do some research on the whole body donor programs in your area. Typically there are no age limits for body donors and most all will qualify even those with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ALS and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are just a few of the areas in which whole body donors have made a contribution to medical research and education:
• Heart disease
• Diabetes
• Spinal injuries
• Joint replacements
• Cancer research
• Osteoporosis
• Colon and liver treatments
• Breast cancer
• Reproductive advancements
• Advanced drug delivery
• Paramedic training
• Alzheimer’s research
• Cochlear implant developments
Body Donation Process
Typically the basic procedure for donating your body is straightforward and intended to be efficient and simple for your caregivers and loved ones. Most whole body donor programs have similar processes:
• It begins with a short medical screening over the phone at the time of passing to determine if the potential donor matches current research criteria.
• If a person is under hospice care, this medical screening can usually be done ahead of time.
• The program will coordinate the obtaining of proper, legally informed consent for both donation and cremation.
• The donor is transported to the body donation facility.
After Donation
• The tissue is procured and placed with a variety of medical research and education projects, such as cancer research, Alzheimer’s research, and training surgeons on the latest medical advancements.
• Depending upon the specific donor program cremated remains may or may not be available quickly for the family. In some cases the tissue not used for research is cremated and available for return within 3-5 weeks.
• Following donation, the family may receive information regarding the current research projects and the impact their loved one has made to society.
Most nationwide programs cover all the costs of donation, including cremation, transportation, and filing of the death certificate and return of the cremated remains. It is important to consider if the body donor program is accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks ( which is a nationwide 3rd party independent and scientifically based accrediting body to ensure the highest standards of quality, safety, and dignity for the donor and donors’ families. For more information on accredited organizations, contact the AATB at (703) 827-9582.