Donating your body to medical science

As an alternative to traditional burial or cremation, many people are considering donating their body to medical science after they pass away – an incredibly generous gift to say the least. Whilst donating your body to medical science can be a wonderful way to serve future generations and can play an important part in the training of medical students to become highly skilled practitioners, it’s important that you fully research whether this is the right choice for you.

What are donated bodies used for?

  • Research purposes: the body will be used for research in scientific studies which ultimately help to better understand the makeup of the human body.
  • Anatomical purposes:body donations are highly valued by staff and students and are used to teach students about the structure and function of the human body.
  • Education and training purposes:used for training students and healthcare professionals on surgical techniques.

Arranging body donation

To date, tens of thousands of people have made the decision to donate their body to science and around 600 people do so each year. Although they may be interested, there are many people who are unaware of what’s involved and how to arrange the donation of their body. Contrary to what some people believe, it’s not as simple as having your body dropped off at the nearest medical school; body donation is a very complex practice.

The donation of a body is welcomed by medical schools and to organise this, you will have to contact them for additional information as well as a consent form. When looking to donate your body to medical science, it is essential that you provide written consent and this is witnessed by another party. Additionally, you should also inform your family, next of kin as well as the executor of you Will (if this is a different person). It’s worth noting, if you have appointed a Power of Attorney, they cannot make this decision on your behalf, consent must have been given by yourself during your life.

However, if you live in Scotland, the process is slightly different. You must discuss your end of life wishes with your family and next of kin, this must be documented in your Will and you must contact one of the five universities in Scotland which has an anatomy department. You can find the contact details for all anatomy departments in Scottish Universities here.

Considerations

In light of the financial hardship many families are facing, a leading forensic anthropologist stated that donating a body to medical science can be seen as a way of avoiding the burden of funeral costs. However, it’s not quite as simple as that and many families have been left shocked to hear their loved ones body will not be accepted. There are a number of reasons why medical schools may decline your body which are outlined below:

  • Certain medical conditions which have developed through time
  • If a post-mortem is required on the body to determine cause of death
  • For the sake of medical teaching, a human body also must be intact as ‘normal’ as possible. In essence, your body has to be as near to perfect as possible to be accepted so you can see why so few people are accepted.
  • If too much time has passed – bodies have to be transported to medical schools within very short timescales so it is imperative families are aware of their loved ones wishes.

We are firm believers that life is for living. However, by setting out your end of life wishes now, it provides both you and your family with extra reassurance your wishes will be fulfilled. In the eventuality that your body is not accepted, your loved ones may have to foot unexpected funeral bills so it’s important to have a plan B in place. If you are looking for more information on talking to your family about your end of life wishes click here or find out more about our funeral plans here.