How to Donate Your Body to Science

How to leave your body to science or medical research

Last updated: 17 July 2019

If you would like to donate your body to science when you die, it’s something you’ll need to plan for.

Body donations for anatomical examination are vital for the education of future healthcare professionals, in scientific research and improving medical procedures.

Your body could be used to teach medical students how the body is structured and functions, the development of surgical techniques or procedures, or other scientific studies.

Can anyone donate my body to science when I die?

Unlike organ and tissue donation, which next of kin can consent to when someone dies, donating your body to science isn’t as straightforward as arranging for someone to collect it.

Firstly, only you can consent to your body being donated to science – and you’ll first need to have contacted a local medical school directly, well in advance of your death, to ensure that they will accept you as a potential body donor.

Leaving a body to science involves entering into a written agreement with a medical or scientific institute, which must be signed by you and witnessed. Although there is no upper age limit for body donation, you must be aged 17 or over to be considered as a body donor.

After you have signed the relevant consent forms with your chosen medical school, you should inform your family, friends and GP of your decision. A copy of the consent form should also be kept with your will.

How do I donate my body to science?

The first step in donating your body to science is to contact a local medical school or facility for further information.

The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) is the organisation responsible for licensing and inspecting medical schools, hospitals and other scientific facilities that accept body donations.

It has a useful list of medical schools, which you can search to find a suitable institution.

You can find information about medical schools in Scotland where you can donate your body to science, on the Scottish Government’s website.

What happens to a body donated to science?

The institute you’ve pledged to donate your body to, will provide instructions and details about who your next of kin should contact when you die.

When a donor body arrives at a medical school, it’s embalmed by a technician.

Sometimes, certain organs or body parts will be removed and dissected to expose bones, tissue or tendons for studying.

Donor bodies may be kept for up to three years by medical schools.

Can a donor body be rejected?

Sometimes medical schools are unable to accept body donations.

Terms can vary according to the medical school and certain medical or physical conditions may prevent your body from being accepted for donation. You may be advised of this when you apply.

A donor body should arrive at the facility as soon as possible after the death. A public holiday, for instance, could mean too long a delay between a death – and the facility being able to receive the body and prepare it.

Other reasons why a donated body might be rejected include certain medical conditions and if a post-mortem examination has been carried out.

Can I be a body donor and an organ donor?

It’s possible to register as both an organ donor and a body donor.

However, if your organs or tissue were removed for transplant when you died, it’s likely that your body will be unsuitable for medical research.

If your organs were not removed for transplant when you died, you may be accepted as a body donor by your chosen medical school.

You or your family may need to arrange with a funeral director to transport your body to the facility, or be happy to share or cover the transport costs.

It’s best to check with your chosen medical school to see what costs are covered. Donating your body to science is an altruistic gift and is not something that you or your family will be paid for.

Will there be a funeral if I donate my body to science?

Many people choose for their families to hold a memorial service or celebration of life, after their body has been donated to science.

Donor bodies may be kept for between two and three years by medical schools, who will then usually arrange for the body to be cremated.

If your loved ones want to hold a private funeral service, they will be responsible for the costs.

They may wish to arrange for a funeral director to collect your body, if they would prefer to make their own funeral arrangements for you. You may want to make financial arrangements in advance to cover these costs, by, for instance, taking out a funeral plan.

Many medical schools hold annual memorials and thanksgiving services to honour those who have made a body donation.

Can I donate my body to a body farm?

Body farms, more properly known as human taphonomy facilities, are restricted areas where human cadavers are used in the development of forensic science.

There are nine body farms located around the world, where bodies are buried or left exposed to the elements, to research how they decay and give scientists greater insight how causes of death can be identified.

Although there is no such facility as yet in the UK, a number of scientists in the UK have supported calls for a body farm in the UK.

How do I donate my body to go on display?

Anatomist Dr Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds museums and touring exhibitions have attracted and intrigued millions of people around the world.

The scientist has perfected a technique called Plastination, using a polymer solution to preserve the donated bodies.

The donor bodies are displayed to reveal how our muscles, bones and tissues function, when we are at work, rest or play.

Body Worlds has more than 18,000 people registered to donate, mostly from Germany, but some from further afield in Europe. Further information in English can be requested from Dr von Hagens’ Plastination Institute.