Donating One’s Body to Science

A dead human body is usually disposed of by burial or cremation. One alternative that benefits people outside of the funeral industry is to donate one’s dead body to science. Donation to science (also know as donation to medical science) is turning over a dead body to doctors, medical students, and/or other scientists for use in their studies. The charitable goal is the advancement of science. Donation to science is usually to a medical school. The most common use of a dead body by a medical school is to teach human anatomy to the next generation of doctors and other medical professionals.

Where Medical Schools Get Dead Bodies

Dead bodies are not property that can be legally bought and sold. So where do medical schools get their dead bodies from? There are two sources.

The first source is people who die and no relative steps forward, through a funeral director, to claim the person’s dead body. Medical schools maintain contact with coroners and hospitals. Both corners and hospitals, after the passage of a respectful period of time, are often faced with the problem of disposing of a dead body that has not been claimed. In cases in which it is believed that the dead person has no surviving relatives, or in cases in which every surviving relative has refused to claim the dead body, corners and hospitals often offer the “abandoned” dead body to a medical school. A state-supported medical school, for example, may have legal authority to travel up to certain distance or spend up to a certain amount of money to go and pick up a dead body. It’s a little-known example where our taxes go.

The second source is people who believe in the charitable goal of advancing science and specifically request or leave directions to have their dead body donated to science. Most of the time, the motivating factor is a person’s general interest in science and medicine. Sometimes, a doctor will ask a person dying of a particular disease to make the donation so that the particular disease can be more thoroughly studied, in the hope of developing a better treatment and/or cure for that disease.

Donation to Science Is an Offer, Not a Guarantee

Medical schools often meet all of their needs for dead bodies through coroners and hospitals offering them “abandoned” dead bodies. They don’t need to buy dead bodies. All donations to science are subject to the medical school’s acceptance of the offer. It often happens that a person wants his or her body donated to science, but he or she dies from violence or disease such that his or her body is missing parts or otherwise damaged, making it useless for anatomy class. Medical schools often refuse to accept such dead bodies. A person planning a donation to science should always leave alternative disposition instructions, just in case.

Donations to Science Is Not the Ultimate End

What do medical schools do with dead bodies when they are done with them? If not returned to the deceased person’s relatives for disposition, the remains are usually buried or cremated by the medical school.