Archive for Body Donation

The advantages and disadvantages of donating your body to science

Many people consider donating their body to science in lieu of choosing a funeral followed by burial in a cemetery.  Body donation (or medical donation, as it is sometimes called), has advantages and disadvantages

Advantages of donating your body to science

One of the chief advantages related to donating your body to science is that this option is often considerably less expensive than other funeral options.  By donating your body to science, you avoid costs associated with body burial in a cemetery.  You may also be able to lower or reduce costs related to the headstone or memorial marker.

A body donation can also be fairly simple to arrange: normally you file basic paperwork with a donor program (usually a medical school) and then notify the donor program immediately following the death.  Representatives from the medical school will dispatch professionals to pick up the decedent and transport the body back to the medical school.

Moreover, the donor program or medical school accepting the body usually takes full responsibility for handling the eventual cremation and burial tasks.  Families are usually given the option of having cremated remains buried at the school site or returned to the family once the school is finished using the body for teaching purposes.

Donating your body to medical science also has an altruistic advantage in that your donation helps train future doctors and surgeons and may help find cures to a variety of diseases.  While this may not be a high priority in some families, other families take solace in the fact that they are able to make a positive impact on future generations.

Medical donation / Body donation – disadvantages to consider

While medical donation offers many advantages, there are also disadvantages you should consider before finalizing your plans.

You need to plan carefully to ensure that the body will be accepted regardless of the manner of death.  Some donation programs exclude bodies that have expired from certain conditions.  Should you (or a loved one) die in a manner that is excluded under the terms of the donor program, surviving family members would be responsible for making alternative arrangements.  This means even if you were planning on donating your body to science at relatively no cost, you could end up with unexpected funeral bills.

Most donor programs have counselors that can clearly explain which methods of death are acceptable or excludable under their program guidelines.  By talking with the donor program counselor and reviewing their literature, you can reduce –and in many cases eliminate- the risk of an expensive surprise.  Some programs will agree to accept the body regardless of the manner of death – even if the school determines they cannot use the body for teaching purposes.

It is also important to remember that medical donation may not be a viable alternative for “at need” cases.  Most donor programs require program registration prior to the time of death.  Because most medical schools require the decedent to be delivered immediately upon death, there often is not enough time to register for medical donation after the person has died.

This means you should have a backup plan when choosing medical donation.  You want to have a “plan B” just in case your donation is not accepted by the medical school because of an excludable manner of death or because the body could not be transported to the medical school within a reasonable amount of time.  Again, the donor program counselor will be able to provide clear guidance as to what manners of death and what time frames for delivery are acceptable.

Also, because most medical schools use bodily organs in their research, they usually do not accept bodies whose organs have been donated.  So if donating your organs is important to you, the medical donation option may not be available to you.  Similarly, autopsied bodies are usually not eligible for medical donation for the same reason.

Note: most medical schools do allow you to donate your eyes without jeopardizing a full body donation.

While donating your body to science can be a wonderful way to serve future generations, the process may not celebrate the decedent’s life as the family wants.  Because time is of the essence when donating a body, there usually is not time to hold a funeral or memorial service with the body present.  This doesn’t mean the family can’t hold a memorial service anyway; it just means that they will have to hold the service in the absence of the body or cremated remains.

Because some families find that holding a funeral is therapeutic and helps them begin the healing process, forgoing a funeral for body donation, may be less satisfying to some  surviving family members.

Although all medical schools hold a community memorial service to pay respects to the bodies used during the previous semester’s classes, this ceremony usually does not occur until approximately 18 months after the date of death.  This extended “waiting period” often may delay the family’s feeling of closure.

Lastly, because the body needs to be preserved for a long time period (usually until the next school semester starts), the medical school will be required to embalm the body.

Donating your body to medical science has many advantages and disadvantages.  The above considerations can be used as a starting point for making an appropriate decision.

You can learn more about donating your body to medical science here.


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Save money on funeral costs by choosing lower-priced options

 Choosing certain types of funeral or cremation arrangements can eliminate many unnecessary funeral costs.  Choosing wisely will prevent you from being charged for lots of “extras” no one told you about. 


Since most families do not plan funerals very often, they usually don’t realize what’s included (or excluded) in the decisions they make.  All too often a family simply agrees to the funeral director’s recommendations – only to end up surprised when their final bill is 30% higher than expected.


Even though many of the goods and services offered by a funeral home are priced on an individual basis, certain selections you make will automatically trigger additional costs.  Unfortunately, most families don’t find out about these additional costs until after the service is over and they get the funeral director’s bill.


Here’s an example of how this works:


When meeting with the funeral director he might suggest a “traditional” funeral priced at $500.  You agree….thinking $500 isn’t too bad.  However, what you didn’t realize (and what the funeral director failed to mention) is that a “traditional” funeral also means that you will need:

•             embalming (another $500)

•             casket ($1,500)

•             viewing or visitation ($500)

•             cemetery space ($1,000)

•             open & closing the grave site ($750)

•             outer burial container ($1,000)

•             headstone ($1,500)

•             announcing the funeral in a newspaper ($250)

•             use of a hearse ($200)


….so when the funeral director said the “traditional” funeral service costs $500 – he meant it would cost $500 to hold the actual 45 minute funeral service.  But, by choosing a “traditional” funeral service, you were also agreeing to purchase all of the other things that are required to conduct a traditional funeral.


In this case your total cost would be closer to $7,700.  This is a realistic example (the average traditional funeral costs nearly $8,000).  Simply understanding what’s included in the decisions you make can help you avoid such a nasty financial surprise. 


You can use a resource like the Funeral $aver’s Kit to learn about the types of funeral, burial, and cremation arrangements from which you can choose.  Section 2 of the kit identifies costs associated with each service and clearly shows which expenses will be included (or excluded) based on the choices you make. 


Generally, your least expensive options (in order of increasing price) are:

•             medical donation

•             direct cremation

•             immediate burial

•             cremation with service

•             traditional funeral


Click to learn more about the Funeral Saver’s Kit.




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Donating your body to science – what you need to know about body donation

Many people consider donating their body to science in lieu of choosing a funeral followed by cemetery burial.   

Donating your body to science:  a basic description

When you choose to donate a deceased body to science, you are essentially donating the body to aid medical research – usually to teach medical students about anatomy.

When you donate a body, a representative from the medical school picks up the body and takes it to back to the school school where it’s embalmed and stored.  The body is used to teach anatomy to medical students during the following semester’s classes.  After the semester ends, the body is cremated.

The cremated remains (i.e. cremains) are either returned to the family or buried in communal plot in a cemetery near the medical school. 

Families choosing to donate a body to science can still choose to hold their own memorial service after the death; however, in cases of body donation, the cremains will not be present during the memorial service (because the body needs to be transported to the medical school immediately following death).

The medical school usually holds a single memorial service for all of the bodies used during the previous semester’s classes, and surviving family members are invited to attend the ceremony.   The medical school’s memorial service occurs approximately two years after the date of death.

After the school holds their memorial service, the cremains are usually buried in a cemetery near the medical school.  However, the family can also request the cremains be returned to the family.  Again, this occurs nearly two years after death.

Body donation – typical requirements

Medical schools have specific rules that must be followed in order to donate a body for their use.  Most schools only accept fully-intact bodies (because they can also use the organs in their research).  This means most schools will not accept a body that has been autopsied or that has donated bodily organs.  

Note: usually, you are allowed to donate the eyes without jeopardizing the full body donation – but check with your specific donation program first, just to be sure.

Here is an index that identifies body donation programs.

I live near the Cleveland Clinic, and they also have a reputable medical donation program.

There is usually no cost associated with donating a body to a medical school, as long as you deal directly with the school itself.  Many funeral homes will help arrange a medical donation, but they usually charge a fee (about $1,000) for doing so.

If you are thinking about body donation as a way to avoid the expense of a funeral, considering consulting the Funeral Saver’s Kit.  Its helped thousands of families reduce burdensome funeral expenses and choose the end-of-life options that are right for them.  It includes even more information about donating a body to science.

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