The Gift to Impact Generations: Whole Body Donation to Science and Education


Have you ever considered donating your body to science after you pass away? If you’re not quite convinced, the gratitude and appreciation from those in wellness professions including osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers and movement practitioners for the opportunity to learn from your body (versus a textbook) might make you consider it. 

Why donate your body? 

The Institute for Anatomical Research refers to gift donors as teachers. “The story of your life is recorded in the tissues of your body,” and your body has a lesson to provide those who study it that nobody else can give. By expanding study beyond books to the tissues of the body, healthcare providers are given a more in-depth look and see the interrelationships of various systems throughout the body. This study is invaluable for those trying to understand how the experiences of a lifetime can impact the body and then to learn how to improve future treatment and care. Donating your body to scientific research is an amazing gift—of hope, insight, education and outcomes. 

Make your wishes known

Most people don’t want to dwell on or think about the end of life, but it’s important to share with your friends and family your desire to become a whole body donor. It’s easier for loved ones to fulfill your requested directives when they know it’s what you want. 

As one person shared regarding her grandparents donating their bodies to science, “It made it much easier to reckon with that it was THEIR choice. I would absolutely struggle to make that choice for someone else, but since I knew it was their wish it made it easier to understand and agree with.” 

MyDirectives offers a free service where you can document your end-of-life and after-life directives including your request to be a whole body donor so that your family and friends know definitely what you want. Every adult should use this valuable tool or another like it to document their desires. 

What to expect when you donate

When you decide to become a whole body donor, you should share your request with your loved ones and document it through a service such as MyDirectives. Then if you have a preference for the organization you wish to donate to, it’s a good idea to register with that institution’s whole body donor program such as the Institute for Anatomical Research’s Willed Body Donation. Pre-registration is not required for most programs, but it’s another way to document your end-of-life wishes. 

In programs like the Institute for Anatomical Research, if you’re willing, they would like to learn about you while you’re living (such as your occupation, hobbies, medical information) to enable a holistic approach to learn from your donation when the time comes. Of course, the amount you share or the amount your loved ones share is completely up to you. 

At the time of death, your loved one places a call to the organization you have willed your body to. Once your donation is accepted, the organization will make the arrangements to transport your body, will pay for two death certificates, cremation and will return your ashes once the study is complete.

Depending on the agreement you made with the organization you are donating to, the time of study can vary between 3 weeks up to a year or more. 

Questions about whole body donation:

What if I have cancer? 

Even people with heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other illnesses can still meet the criteria for whole body donation. 

What about a memorial service? 

Whole body donation does not allow for an open-casket funeral. However, many families opt to have a memorial service before or after receiving the cremated remains. 

Are certain religions against whole body donation? 

Most religions including Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints see body donation as an individual’s choice and an act of charity. 

Can I request what research my body is used for? 

There are no guarantees that a request for the specific type of research can be honored, but many programs are trying to accommodate specific requests.

Can I be too old to donate? 

There is currently no age restriction for whole body donation although many organizations have a minimum age of 18 years old. 

Organ donation versus whole body donation

When you opt to donate organs, you help give life to others that need your organs to survive or thrive. According to the American Transplant Foundation, almost 114,000 of people in the United States are waiting for a lifesaving transplant.  

A whole body donation helps build the knowledge and skills of those in the healthcare community and will be vitally important in the quality of life for future generations. 

Even if you had registered at the motor vehicle office to be an organ donor, you can still request to be a whole body donor as well. At the time of your death, if there is a need for your organs, that donation will take precedence. 

Whatever choice you make, being an organ donor and/or a whole body donor are both extremely important. And, the reason the medical community can do organ transplants is because of what was learned earlier through research and education done on bodies donated to science. 

If you’re like many people who say about whole body donation, “Why not, when I’m gone, I don’t need my body anymore,” you should consider whole body donation when you pass.

As a participant in human dissection programs, I have experienced the tremendous opportunity and benefit of learning from the human form. I have a better sense of anatomy, the relationships/continuities that exist in the body, joint mechanics, organs and movement in addition to so much more. I’m eternally grateful to the donors/teachers who chose to be of service in their passing so that myself and fellow classmates could learn from their gift.

If you’re interested in learning more, please contact the Institute for Anatomical Research as well as be sure your family and friends know your wishes by documenting them through MyDirectives or a similar service.  

Ashley, Taylor Pilates and Fitness