Anatomical gift: donating your whole body to medical education

Donating your whole body to a medical school, known as making an anatomical gift, will assist with essential understanding of human anatomy and provide worthwhile training for future physicians and medical specialists.

Who can make a whole body donation?

Most adults are eligible for anatomical donation. There may be disqualifying circumstances that arise, such as if an autopsy has been performed or if there is a presence of an infectious or contagious disease including HIV, hepatitis and meningitis.

How can a whole body donation be made?

To make a whole body donation, there is important planning that needs to be done while you are alive. Your first step is to contact the medical school to which you want to donate your body. Most medical schools with anatomical gift programs have information posted online.

Once you have identified a medical school, you will need to obtain, complete and submit their donation form(s). Typically, the medical school will provide you with a pocket/wallet card stating your intention to make a whole body donation and the contact information for the medical school.

It is important that you discuss your body donation with your family, close friends, minister and attorney as actions will need to be taken immediately after death for a viable donation to occur.

What happens after you die?

Within 24 hours of your death, your survivors should contact the medical school to make arrangements for your body to be transported to the medical school for embalming.

Once a donated body has been delivered to the medical school, the body is not available for viewing. Therefore, it is important for you and your family to talk before your death as to whether a funeral or memorial service will be held for you. If a funeral service is desired, then the funeral home needs to be informed about the body donation so that they can contact the medical school for the proper procedures to follow in order for your body to be acceptable for donation after the funeral has taken place.

What happens after the medical school completes its training?

In most cases, a body will be used for instruction and training of medical students by the medical school for approximately 12 to 15 months.

Afterwards, the remains are cremated at the medical school’s expense and in accordance with the donor’s written wishes. The cremated remains are either returned to the family who will assume the responsibility for the final disposition or the remains can be buried in a communal interment site.

What if you decide that whole body donation is not what you want?

You can certainly change your mind and revise or revoke your donation. To do so, you will need to notify the medical school in writing.

In addition, should you marry, remarry, change your surname or address, you should also contact the medical school to update or change their records and to have them issue a new donor pocket/wallet card.

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