Consent: The Basics

Let’s talk about consent.

Consent forms, though the concept seems very straight forward, are critical in the donor process. Some things to know about consent forms:

The word consent on a puzzle piece
  • Exactly what are you consenting to
  • What organizations do you want to donate to?
  • Do prefer your gift to be used for educational or research purposes?
  • What are some important things you should remember when filling out your consent forms?
  • What is the role of an authorized agent or next of kin?
  • What is needed for consent forms to be valid?
  • What else is needed to be a donor?

Let’s Touch On These Topics

Research For Life believes in transparency during the process of becoming a whole body donor. We take this seriously because we truly respect the gift that our donors give to the world of medical research and education. We encourage all donors to ask questions, understand our process, and leave feeling confident in their decision to choose whole body donation. Not only is our process, cost effective and makes the trauma of losing a loved one a little easier for families but it is important for our donors to know exactly what their body would be used for after death.

An important step on the road to becoming a donor for whole body donation is understanding consent forms and exactly you are consenting to happen after you die. Consent forms, also referred to as authorization forms or document of gift, can only be signed by an authorized agent of the donor or be self-authorized before death under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Each consent form should define who in the consenting class has the most authority to direct donation. This could be anyone from the medical power of attorney, spouse, children, grandchildren, etc.

Picking a next of kin or representative contact is important. After death, it is their responsibility to contact Research For life, coordinate transportation with the organization and provide any necessary information. They will also receive information on how to obtain the death certificate. Though most of this information is provided upon pre-registration, donation will be denied if next of kin or authorized agents refuse to provide necessary information when death occurs for consent forms and the death registration forms.

Before death, it is important that donors and authorized agents understand fully what they are consenting to and are welcome to ask any questions. The reason being is the consent form can cover a wide range of consent areas and our organization would never do anything that was never consented to. Some of the areas covered in the consent form are if the body would be used:

  • For educational or research purposes
  • Educational purposes include cadavers for medical students, help train doctors, surgeons, paramedics, EMTs
  • Research purposes include helping find causes and cures for diseases, research the brain and spinal cord, work on new techniques for joint and back surgeries
  • In whole or in parts
  • Domestically or internationally
  • A whole profit or non-profit organization
Doctor's hand holding silver pen and sharing a document

Important Things To Remember

Donors and their authorized agents also need to have an understanding that once the body is given to an organization, it belongs to the organization within the terms of the consent forms. There are other small areas that consent usually covers is the right to test for diseases and order medical records, these tests and records will determine medical suitability for each donor. Research For Life uses cadavers for educational and research purposes and does not do ballistic testing.

Once again even though the cadavers belong to the organization after death, they will never be used in a way not consented to. So, it is important to go over all areas of consent within your form if you have a specific ideal of what you would kind of organization you would like to donate your body to. Certain diseases or medical issues could prevent your cadaver being used in certain research or educational ways. We do want to put cadavers where they would be most beneficial but want to respect the wishes of our donors or their authorized agents.

Consent may be written or verbal, but nothing is valid until it is notarized or signed by two witnesses. One witness MUST be non-family or a disinterested party. Before signing a consent forms, Research For Life encourages you to ask questions and not to sign anything that you are unsure of. The Cremation Authorization Form is also not valid until it is signed by one witness. Research For Life has a written consent form on our website.

Ready to be a donor?

If you have already decided to do whole body donation as your end of life option, you can pre-register with our Research For Life Donor Program. You apply for our program by completing the Donor Registration Packet that our Research For Life staff can assist you on as much as legally permissible. Once accepted, you will be mailed your acceptance letter, donor ID and a copy of your registration packet. At time of death, Research For Life will cover cremation, transportation and cremation returns, if applicable.

We are extremely protective of donor information and donor privacy. We do not sell or solicit any information from any registration packets or consent forms. The information is required by the state vital registrar to enable death certificate filing. Medical, social, and health-related information is anonymized and shared with researchers or educators when information relating to the donor’s heath is needed. We are passionate and privileged to be helping donors give this gift to science and want our donors to feel confident moving forward with our organization.

Have any more questions?

If you have any questions regarding the forms or need any other information to begin your pre-registration process you can call our toll free number at 800.229.3244 or send an email to Our caring, compassionate and dedicated staff is here to talk to you 24/7.

Video Content: Research For Life CEO, Garland Shreves, discusses some basic information regarding consent forms, in general, that you may encounter when considering to donate to a whole body donor organization.

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Research For Life - Understanding Whole Body Donor Consent

Hello, my name is Garland Shreves, CEO of Research For Life. I want to take a moment to discuss some very basic information with you regarding consent forms, in general, that you may encounter when considering to donate to a whole body donor organization.

First and foremost, you need to understand and read the consent form, also known as the authorization form or document of gift, so you know what you are consenting to.  Ask questions of the organization if you don’t understand something. 

 All states require, under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, that consent be granted by an authorized agent of the donor or self-authorization before death.

Each state defines who in the consenting class has the most authority to direct donation. Such as the medical power of attorney, spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, etc. and differs slightly in each state. 

Consent may be given by means of a verbal recorded consent or by a written document of gift.

Research For Life uses a written consent form which can be found on our website.

Understand that the donor or authorizing agent is giving the body to an organization. Once given it belongs to the organization to use in accordance with the consent form.

In other words, the donor organization is free to use the donor provided it does so within the terms

of the consent, it may not use the donor in a manner not consented too.  

The consent may state how the body may be used.  Educational and/or research purposes or some other purpose may be stated or in the discretion of the donor organization.

Research For Life provides cadavers and/or anatomical specimens for education and research purposes and does not do ballistic testing.

The consent may state that the body will be used in whole or in parts. It may also state that the anatomical parts may be used domestically and or internationally.

And most consents will cover some basic things like consent to test the donor for diseases and order medical records to help best determine the medical suitability for the donation.

The consent may also touch on issues like for profit or nonprofit status and if the donor or anatomical specimens will be used by one or more or both types of entities.  Remember that regardless of an organizations tax status they all charge fees to end users who order anatomical specimens and offer those specimens to both for profit and nonprofit entities.

From the very start of the donation process costs to the donor organization begin. 24-hour answering service, transport team to respond 24/7, qualified trained staff paid a livable wage with benefits and retirement, electric, gas, phone, insurances, building payments, maintenance, medical director, and regulatory requirements, and cremation fees. And these are just some of the expenses that an organization may have to cover.

Another item you may see on most authorization forms is a release of liability, a hold harmless agreement, excluding misconduct of course.  

Research For Life states clearly it will not and donor or agent agrees that Research For Life will not be held responsible for acts of third parties in connection with the donation.

Another item that reduces a donor organizations liability is the Anatomical Gift Act prohibits criminal, civil or administrative actions provided there is no intentional misconduct on the part of the donor organization. In other words, if the donor organization acted in good faith it is immune and provided some protection from lawsuits.

Another important part on a consent form is the person signing the authorization attests (affirms) that they have the authority to direct the donation. The donor organization accepts the authorizing agent’s authority in good faith barring any information known to it at the time of donation that would contradict the authority of the person authorizing donation.    

Remember, should you decide to register, tell your family and friends about your decision.

Also, the donation authorization form is not valid until notarized or signed by two witnesses; one witness must be non-family or disinterested party. 

Consent forms contain other important information that you need to read and understand.

All documents of gift or authorizations can be cancelled prior to death.

I want to thank you for taking the time to watch this video and I hope it helped provide you with some basic information regarding whole body donation consent forms.  Thank you.