The Disadvantages of Donating Your Body to Science

Written by Kim Wilhelm

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Last Updated 21 May 2024

Are you thinking of donating your body to science? There are a lot of misconceptions about body donation and how it works. Before making a decision, it's important to know exactly what whole-body donations involve, how they work, and which organizations you can approach if you'd like to donate your body to science.


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How Whole Body Donation Works

There isn't a central regulatory body that tracks donations, but by some estimates, medical schools receive around 10,000 - 15,000 bodies every year. Other donations go to corporations, as well as various government and private institutions.

Every organization has its own set of rules for body, organ, and tissue donation, but the basic body donation process works as follows:

1.You'll choose an organization that can accept donations. Most medical schools affiliated with a university will accept body donors. You will need to register and complete a consent form ahead of time.

2.Upon your passing, the chosen institution will decide whether or not to accept your donated body. There is no guarantee that they will. Institutions will usually decline donors suffering from HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C or B, syphilis, jaundice, or viral or bacterial infections. They may also reject bodies over a certain weight limit. Because there is a possibility of rejection, it's always advisable to make alternative arrangements and to let your loved ones know what your wishes are should your body donation be rejected.

3.Some institutions cover all associated costs, but others may require that your loved ones arrange for the delivery of your body, especially if they are in a different state. The institution will then decide how to use your body. It's not possible to decide how your body should be used, and in most cases, it is not possible to donate your organs and make a whole-body donation after the fact.

4.After the institution has finished with the body, your remains will be cremated and returned to your family. No compensation is given. Most medical institutions will use the body for up to two years.

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Common Misconceptions About Body Donation

Donating your body to medical science provides aspiring doctors with important training. It can also remove some of the financial burdens of your death, as your family members won't need to arrange for a funeral.

However, it's important to know all of the facts before you make a decision about body donation. It's also a good idea to discuss donating your body to science with your loved ones and involve them in the decision-making process from the start. 

Here are a few common misconceptions about body donation:

Donated bodies will be used for important medical research

Donors can't dictate how their bodies will be used, although they can choose the institution. Some for-profit companies dissect donated bodies and distribute parts across the world as needed. There are companies, for example, that use deceased bodies as crash test dummies in ballistic testing. Before you donate your body through a medical body donation company, make sure you are fully aware of what companies can and can't do with your body.

There is a shortage of bodies for medical research

In some cases, supply exceeds demand, and many people who want to donate their bodies aren't able to. There is also no guarantee that a medical school or institution needs your body or will accept your body as a donation. For example, in a state like New Hampshire, there is only one facility that is allowed to accept bodies, and more than 30% of donors are rejected.

Donating your body is a good way to avoid funeral costs

Whole-body donation isn't free. There are usually some costs, and while the institution will usually reimburse the family, there may be a charge to cover, including the charge to move the body to the medical school or research facility and file the death certificate. These fees can run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and even though they will be reimbursed, fees need to be paid upfront. It's also important to consider your family's wishes. Even if your intentions are to help your loved ones avoid the cost of a funeral service, they may still opt to conduct a memorial service or ceremony to celebrate and commemorate your life.

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Donating your body means your organs will help people who need it.

There is a difference between organ donation and body donation. It's possible to donate specific organs (e.g., your kidneys, liver, heart, corneas) and still have a funeral service, cremation, or burial like you would normally. When you donate your whole body, the institution decides how to use your body and for how long. After a few years or months, your remains are cremated. Sometimes the ashes are returned to the family; sometimes, it's not. It's not possible to donate your organs and donate your body to science afterward. Most medical institutions require that your body is entirely intact.

Donating your body will earn an income for your family

It is illegal for medical schools or research facilities to pay for body donations. You may be reimbursed for direct expenses, but your family can't profit from your donation in any way.

Disadvantages of donating your body to science

If you are passionate about advancing medical science and training future doctors, donating your body may feel like a fitting end.

Your family may feel differently than you do, though. Many families find a memorial service or funeral with a viewing therapeutic. Some prefer laying their loved one's body to rest in a meaningful place that they can visit over and over again to feel close to the deceased.

When you donate your body to science, your family will probably not have an opportunity to say goodbye to your physical body. (In some cases, the funeral home will allow for a simple closed viewing, like an identification viewing).

It's also a good idea to discuss their feelings about the donation. Would they be comfortable with your body being dissected and shipped to different locations? Are they comfortable with your body being examined or used in ballistic or impact testing? Are they comfortable with the possibility of not receiving your ashes or remains after the research has been completed?

Some family members may find the idea of your body being dissected or altered in some way uncomfortable or even distressing. Sit down and discuss the various possibilities with your loved ones before making a final decision. You don't want your death or the thought of your body being used to be traumatizing or distressing.

Think carefully about your motives. Is it purely to save money? If so, there are alternatives you can consider.

Covering the Cost of Your Final Expenses

Many people decide to donate their bodies as a way of sparing their loved ones the cost of a funeral or final expenses. As we've already discussed, body donation is always free, but it's definitely not guaranteed. Even if you are adamant about donating your body, medical schools and research facilities do not always accept the body donations they receive. In that case, you need a plan B, or your family will be left with no choice but to make a decision for you.

If money is your biggest concern, consider taking out a final expense insurance policy. These policies are open to nearly all individuals - even senior citizens in poor health. A final expense policy can cover your funeral expenses and alleviate the financial burden on your family.

Speak to Final Expense Direct about your options. We work with hundreds of reputable insurers that offer policies that will help you and your family meet your obligations and fulfill your final wishes.

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