It is estimated that about 20,000 bodies are donated in the United States each year for the purpose of medical research and education. Choosing to donate your body to science after you pass away might seem like an unconventional choice, but the contribution to medical science is paramount.

In this post, we take a look into the world of whole body donation, and provide insight into the process.

What Happens When You Donate Your Body to Science?

When you donate your body to science, you first need to choose where you would like to donate to. You can choose an organization like a tissue bank (a facility that collects and stores human cadaver tissue for the purposes of medical research, education, and/or allograft (tissue) transplantation), or you can donate directly to a University or medical school that has proper facilities. You’ll likely have to answer pre-screening medical questions to determine if you will be able to donate.

The donor is stored until the research or educational process is completed, and then previously agreed to arrangements are carried out with the family.

Generally, all organizations accepting deceased donor donations must follow the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) regulations and standards surrounding donated human tissue used for scientific or medical purposes.

The AATB’s guidelines for tissue banking are recognized as being the model for federal and state regulations, as well as international directives and standards. The AATB offers accreditation so tissue banks that follow their standards are recognizable.

Even though regulations exist for tissue banks that are providing donatable tissue, the AATB points out that Non-Transplant Anatomical Donation Organization (NADO) may not require accreditation, unless it is required by state law.

However, a NADO can obtain AATB accreditation on a voluntary basis, and AATB provides a search tool so you can check if the organization you are planning to donate to has AATB accreditation.

A Bill was introduced in 2014 that if passed, would require all NADOs to be licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

How Do You Donate Your Body to Science After Death?

There are several ways that you can arrange for the donation of your remains to be used for scientific or medical purposes. Here is a rundown of some of the most common donation methods.

Willed body donation

You can indicate in advance through your Last Will and Testament that you wish to donate your body to a University or medical school as an anatomical gift to assist the students with their education. You can also indicate your wishes through a Living Will (or Health Care Directive) which is a document used to indicate your health care wishes should you become incapacitated.

In order to become a donor, you’ll need to pre-register with the school or organization you decide to donate to.

As an example, the Willed Body Donation Program at Stanford Medicine provides donor registration forms and further information about their program directly on their website.

Essentially, you just need to fill out the form indicating that you would like to be a donor, but it is never a bad idea to make your wishes known through your Last Will and Testament or Living Will as well.

Many different schools throughout the United States offer willed body donation programs, so it’s a good idea to do research to determine where you would like to donate to, and learn more about each school’s donation process.

These donation programs must follow the Anatomical Gift Act as well as the aforementioned AATB standards to ensure that remains are treated with the utmost respect.

Donating your body to science in place of a funeral service

Funeral services can be costly, especially for families that are already financially unstable. Organizations such as Science Care provide no-cost cremation including transportation from the location of passing.

According to Science Care, cremated remains are returned to the family within 3-5 weeks, and the family also receives an update letting them know the societal impact of the donation.

What is the Cost of Donating Your Body to Science?

Generally, with whole body donation, there is no cost to the surviving family members. Any costs associated with the donation are usually covered by the organization that is receiving the donation.

Do You get Paid to Donate Your Body to Science?

Since whole body donation is considered an anatomical gift, there is no monetary value associated with the donation. Therefore, surviving family members generally do not receive compensation.

However, as mentioned earlier, whole body donation can be considered a viable alternative to the financial burden of a traditional funeral.

Can You be an Organ Donor if You Donate Your Body to Science?

Whole body donation can be more difficult if you decide to be an organ and tissue donor, and individuals are generally not able to do both. However, some facilities may still accept organ donor cadavers under certain circumstances. If you are planning to do both, it is a good idea to contact the facility that you are planning to donate to in order to make the necessary arrangements.

Should You Donate Your Body to Science?

Choosing to participate in whole body donation is a decision that takes time and careful consideration to make. Most organizations that handle such matters provide ongoing support throughout the process, so it’s important to ask any questions you may have.

You may wish to contact a trusted medical professional and/or a religious representative to ensure that the process aligns with your personal values and belief system.

Would you consider donating your body to science? Let us know in the comments!

Posted by Lisa Hoffart

Lisa is an experienced writer interested in technology and law. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2017.


  1. R. Patriccia Capitain December 13, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Yes, I definitely consider donating my body to science and have discussed it with my husband. Can you provide information for Canadian donors? Your article(s) seem to be directed at our big brother to the South where they may have different laws from our Canadian ones. Any further info is much appreciated. I live close to Kingston, ON which has a university hospital.
    R. Patricia Capitain

  2. Hi Patriccia,
    Your doctor or local hospital may be able to provide information on the body donation process in Canada, and specifically in your province. You may also wish to contact Universities in your area that offer robust medical programs, as they may offer body donation programs as well.

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