I was listening to a radio show from Ireland the other day about donating your body to science. It's not something I ever thought about before, but I got more and more interested as the show went on. It's now something I am seriously considering so I have contacted an organization for further information.
There are specific rules and regulations in Ireland for this kind of donation. I looked into how it works in America.
Donating your body to science can be relatively simple but there are some important regulations that one needs to consider. And there are certain areas that a person won't be able to have a say over -- not just because they are dead but because there is only so much a person can control as to what is done with their body after they die. Their power is quite limited.
So who can donate their bodies?
Most people can, although people with certain infections are not allowed, including AIDS, Hepatitis B or C. Severely underweight or overweight persons may not be appropriate.
Drug addicts or former prisoners may not be suitable, often due to the risk of infections, according to the radio show I listened to. In Ireland, interestingly, those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's after death are not deemed suitable because the cause of Alzheimer's is currently unknown and may be linked to something infectious.
Many people wonder what their bodies will be used for and how they can make certain requests. Like in Ireland, donors can request their bodies be donated to specific places or for specific purposes but these requests cannot be guaranteed.
Bodies go to places with the highest requirements at the time, although the deceased's families will be notified as to what service their loved one has helped in, if the family would like that.
But it will be the tissue bank (the term generally used for organizations that take care of body donations) itself that ultimately decides where your body will go, based on where cadavers are most needed.
Another concern for some is that it may cost money to donate. In all cases that I looked at, the service is completely free of charge -- which is appropriate, considering the deceased in doing such a wonderful service!
Once a body is cleared to be taken by the appropriate authorities, it will be carefully removed. Utmost respect is shown for the deceased and their loved ones. People on the radio show I listened to said that they were extremely impressed at how the removal procedure was undertaken and the respect and gratitude that was shown.
According to MedCure, an organization that deals with body donations, body and organ donations are completely separate.
The reasons why are that "with whole body donation, your organs and tissue will never be transplanted into another person, but rather benefit medical science through research and education. If you register for both transplant donation and whole body donation, priority will be given to transplant donation because of the opportunity to save a life."
And for those worried about not having a proper funeral -- bodies are usually cremated by the tissue banks and returned to loved ones once they have finished their services, if families would like an official funeral.
Science Care, another tissue donation organization, states there are other good benefits for the family of loved ones too. They describe the services they offer:
"• Cost-free cremation and transportation
• Pre-registration is not required to donate
• We file the death certificate
• Cremated remains are returned with 3-5 weeks
• Letter after donation that updates the family on current research projects and the impact their loved one has made to society
• Tree planting at one-year anniversary through our participation with the Arbor Day Foundation"
While a memorial can certainly be performed after death, a full funeral can be conducted when the body is returned, although that time-frame can be very broad. Cremation will be done free of charge.
Whole body donations are vital for many reasons. Medical students need real bodies to practice surgical procedures on. And EMT or fighter-fighting students prefer to use actual bodies to learn proper life-saving procedures rather than using models or dummies.
Research can also entail watching how a body decomposes, how to insert or remove body parts and how to enter and sew up a body, as well as many other training procedures.
Without real body donations, students and researchers cannot train in a real life situation because mannequins cannot replicate a real human body -- even when that body is not alive.
The downside of full body donation for some is that a traditional funeral with wake or showing is not possible as bodies are disseminated for research or practice. Donation may go against a person's religious or spiritual beliefs. And having little control over what a body will be actually used for after it's handed over for research may also put people ill at ease.
Another issue, although it's not common, can be misuse of a corpse, or selling it (or parts of it) for purposes other than medical research. Proper research before agreeing to donate can help avoid this.
Body donation is a huge gift to medicine. And for people who wish to do more and make a difference, even after death, knowing their bodies will provide such a valuable service after death can be a great feeling at the end of life.
Contact a teaching hospital or a tissue bank near you for further information.
Is whole body donation something you would consider? Why or why not?
Medcure. org. FAQ section.
Science Care. Family Benefits.
Reviewed April 22, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith