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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