What Happens To Your Body When You Donate It To Science?


Strictly speaking, you cannot donate your body directly to science. But you can donate it to a number of accredited institutions who may find a number of uses for it, although the process of doing so – and what actually happens after your death – can be a bit confusing.

In the US, the process is not strictly regulated and somewhat controversial. The American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) provide accreditation for organizations that wish to accept body donations, as does the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine, but there is no legal obligation to do so, leading to some questionable tactics by so-called “body brokers”.

A Reuters investigation last year found that just 10 states in the US regulate body brokers, and only a handful are closely inspected. Your property rights to your body cease at death, meaning it may be used for a number of things that you did not envisage.

In the UK, the process is a bit more stringent. It’s regulated by the Human Tissue Authority, who have a list of 19 licensed medical institutions that you can contact to make arrangements for donating your body. Under the Human Tissue Act of 2004, it is illegal to sell body parts in the UK, which is not necessarily the case in the US. Again, you’ll need to fill out the proper paperwork to make the necessary arrangements after your death.

Bodies may be used by medical schools for scientific research. xmee/Shutterstock

"Donated bodies, brains and tissue are invaluable resources for training or for research," Chris Birkett, the Director of Regulation at the HTA, told IFLScience. "Their bodies will be used to teach healthcare professionals and students about the human body."

There are a number of conditions that must be fulfilled in order for your body donation to be accepted. You must have no history of communicable diseases and you must also be in generally good health prior to your death. If an autopsy is required, medical institutions will usually refuse to take your body afterward.

What happens after is a bit more complicated. There are strict guidelines from the HTA that must be adhered to following your death, including proper ethical treatment of your cadaver. Some institutions may even carry out a memorial service.

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