Medical science has come a long way since the days when students would rob graves for bodies to dissect or buy parts on the black market. Today, body donation after death is far more common and there are some interesting legitimate schemes that can allow for essential research. So what is body donation, what happens to you, and how are you helping the scientific world?
What Is Body Donation?
Many of us are on organ donor lists now so that when we pass on, our vital organs can go to others and prolong another life. But, body donation is entirely different. With organ donation, most of your body is embalmed and put to rest as normal. Here, that process is delayed to allow people to use your body as they choose for research purposes. You can sign up with facilities or universities with accredited programs in your area to give something back before your final burial or cremation.
It may sound like a strange thing to want to do, but it is increasingly popular. A company called MedCure recently saw a rise in annual donations of 30%. Their survey also shows that 40% of people have positive feelings on the subject and 13% would prefer this to a traditional service when they die.
So, what are the bodies used for? This is a vital question to ask before signing up for anything. You might assume that all body donations go to hospitals or universities for medical research. This is the most common use, with whole bodies and organs used as important tools for dissection and practicing procedures.
However, some companies will take bodies apart and send the parts off for a range of purposes. Other industries and training services will benefit from deceased human test subjects. Examples include weapons testing and search and rescue training. It is understandable if this is a little less appealing. So, take your time to consider what you are comfortable with. You can spend plenty of time researching your options and comparing plans.
What Is The Whole Body Donation Process?
All legitimate programs will handle the process from start to end with compassion and professionalism. However, the finer details of the scheme will vary between institutions. For example, some are purely for medical research while others will use parts in many ways. There are also differences in the length of the scheme and the correspondence with the family. This is where you really need to read all the small print, talk your ideas over with family, and be sure of any costs that they may incur after you are gone.
It all starts with your body being taken away to the facility after your death. You skip the embalming process and there is no traditional funeral. (You can learn more about embalming in our Embalming Explained article.)The facility is then free to use the body for their purposes, as hopefully detailed in the plan you signed up for. This could be for as long as two years, so it helps if your family is aware of this.
Once the research is complete, your body will then be treated and laid to rest appropriately. This may mean giving the body back to your family for a service of their own or cremating the body and handing over the ashes. Some facilities have been known to hold emotional memorials to honor the bodies as thanks for their donation. There is no strict framework for every institution. This also means that while some will maintain correspondence with family members to let them know what you’ve been helping with, others won’t.
Are There Laws About Whole Body Donation After Death?
Whole-body donation is completely legal in the United States when handled correctly via the right facilities. As long as the donor has signed up for the process and there are no objections from family, the recipients can use the body as they choose. An important factor here is that the Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act prohibits the buying or selling of any body parts. Yet, companies can charge a fee for certain services in the process above. Also, it helps to find a program accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB).
It is also important to note that not everyone that wants to sign up for this sort of scheme will be able to go through with it. That is because not all bodies are suitable and there may be circumstances after death that inhibit eligibility. For example, any body that undergoes an autopsy isn’t in a fit state. Facilities will also refuse bodes that have been embalmed or that are in a bad state of decomposition or mutilation. Many will also decline to work with bodies with certain contagious diseases or that are severely obese. It is always important to check the fine print before signing up.
What Has Whole Body Donation Done For Science?
While some of these caveats and potential downsides are important to consider, we need to weigh these against the benefits. Whole body donation can do wonders for the scientific community, making your decision one that can influence many lives long after you are gone. Often, a donated body will go to a research facility where it is used to test new processes and tools for medical advancements. This could lead to surgical procedures or other discoveries that benefit patients in the future. On top of that, there are benefits in the greater accuracy and ethical implications when using humans over animal subjects.
Then there are those bodies that got to medical universities and similar institutions teaching the next generation. It is always far better for students to get hands-on experience with real subjects and to see things they have read about. This may be in a medical capacity, as student doctors learn more about anatomy, disease, and other key skills. Donated bodies may also help those learning about forensics and criminology.
Should You Opt For Whole Body Donation?
This is a big question to ask yourself and one that may require some big conversations and a lot of research. But, if you find an institution and program that you like the sound of, and are happy with some of the uncertainties involved, you may find body donation after death is right for you.
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