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Donating Your Body to Science: FAQs

donating-body-science-heartNo matter how far technology comes, some things remain the same: Farmers still harvest the land. Fishermen still use nets. And medical students still need to learn on real human bodies.

Though some of these bodies are unclaimed cadavers from the coroner, others are planned donations. So what do you do if you want to donate yours?

Donald Fletcher, Ph.D., is professor and vice-chair of anatomy at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. He gave us the lowdown on donating your body to science.

MFD: If I donate my body to science, how long will it be in use?

DF: Bodies are used for the duration of the particular course or training that needs them. They can be used for several days, such as when training surgical residents, or throughout a semester in an anatomy course for first-year medical students. Generally, studies on a body are finished within a year after the body has been received.

MFD: What are the ethics? Will medical students laugh or gawk at it?

DF: Your body is treated with the utmost respect and dignity by faculty and students. It is kept in a restricted area. Most programs also have an annual memorial service to honor the donors.

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MFD: Why would I want to donate my body? Do they really need it?
DF: Donated bodies are essential in the education and training of doctors, nurses, dentists and other health-care professionals. While computer programs and simulated patients are helpful, there is no substitute for learning human anatomy directly from a body. By donating your body, you provide a wonderful gift to future and current health-care providers.

MFD: If I decide to donate my body, how should I tell my family?

DF: You need to do this since next-of-kin are the legal custodians of a deceased relative’s body. You can explain how your donation will provide a tremendous asset to the health-care profession. Individuals associated with anatomical donation programs will also be glad to discuss the issue with family members.

MFD: How would I donate my body to science?
DF: You should contact a body-donation program in your state, which is usually associated with a medical school. These programs will have the information and necessary forms for body donation. You can also contact your state’s health or human services agency for information.

MFD: Anything else you’d like to mention?
DF: There may be factors or conditions that will make your body unacceptable for donation; these include having an autopsy or death by certain infectious diseases. You should always have an alternate plan in case your body is not accepted for donation.


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Last updated and/or approved: October 2011.
Original article appeared in September/October 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

Comments (1)add comment
National Body Donation Program
written by Valere , October 28, 2011

MedCure ( is a national program that assists persons with arrangements for body donation after death. Because we are national, we work with medical schools, device and implant companies as well as advanced surgical training. For persons considering body donation, there are many options and we have a much higher acceptance rate than most university studies because of the large area and population that we cover.
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