Understanding Whole Body Donation

There are plenty of misconceptions out there regarding donating your body for scientific, medical or educational purposes, often referred to as “donating your body to science.” If you are considering becoming a donor you probably have more than a few questions about the process. We want to help by providing some facts about whole body donation.

An organ donor can be a whole body donor in some cases.

THE FACTS: Organ donation and whole body donation are two completely unique and separate programs. But they are equally important in saving lives by an immediate organ transplant (heart, lung, kidney) or through disease research for therapies or medicines that save or extend lives. The primary difference is that whole body donation organizations are non-transplant tissue banks. This means that they do not take live organs from a donor and transplant them into another living person. In fact, most whole body donation programs will work with the organ donation organization to ensure that your wishes are followed as long as the anatomical specimens are viable for research or medical education.

The organ donor designation symbol on the back of your license does not imply consent for whole body donation. A donor would need to register with both the organ donation organization and the whole body donation organization and let their loved ones know they are an organ donor first and a body donor second. Also, since whole body donation is not used for transplant purposes, many more people are able to be accepted as donors because old age or diseases like cancer generally do not prevent your acceptance.

Pre-registration is always best but not required.

THE FACTS: Body donations are accepted after death, even when the individual was not registered at the time of passing. Most organizations would complete a qualification questionnaire over the phone to determine acceptance. A registration packet would also need to be completed by the legal authorizing agent.

Research For Life has a Guaranteed Donor acceptance program.

THE FACTS: There are factors that can void the guaranteed acceptance of a donor. These include the failure to notify Research For Life in a timely manner of the death or the body was not cared for (refrigerated) properly after death.  Another is that the death occurred outside the service area of our contracted transport providers or in a state that we do not provide coverage. Acceptance can also be denied if the authorizing agent or responsibly party refuses to provide the necessary information for the death certificate or permits in a timely manner as required by law and Research For Life. Furthermore, Research For Life will void the guarantee if weather prohibits the transporters ability to safely navigate roads in their discretion. Research For Life reserves the right to change, modify, cancel, or otherwise suspend the guaranteed donor program at any time, without warning, in its sole discretion.

Illnesses and age will prevent acceptance for whole body donation.

THE FACTS: Medical researchers and educators have a need for donors that have certain diseases and conditions. There is also a major shortage for certain types of tissues and specimens. Donors who have or have had diseases like cancer or dementia and are not accepted for other types of transplant donations are accepted and there is no upper age limit restriction.

It’s a fact most people can be a whole body donor.

THE FACTS: Just about everyone can be accepted as a whole body donor. However; there are a few diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis, and some other communicable diseases, that would prevent one from qualifying to be a donor. The donor organization will ask questions regarding a donor’s medical condition and lifestyle to help better understand how the donation can best be used.

Research For Life is a NO cost program, your family or estate will never be charged.

THE FACTS: There are many whole body donation programs that offer services at no cost to the donor or the donor’s family. The organization that receives your gift generally covers the transportation and cremation costs related to the donation process.

Can my family still have a memorial service without the body being present?

THE FACTS: With whole body donation, open casket viewing is not possible.  However, many families choose to have a memorial service in honor of the donor, with or without cremated remains present.

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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.