Although it’s not a topic many people like to dwell on, deciding what happens with your body after death is an important decision to make before reaching end of life. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that science needs more help than ever before and one way of directly helping researchers study the human body and various conditions, is by donating your body.
Before making the decision to donate your body to science, there a few things you should research first. Here’s a quick list to go over if you find the idea of body donation appealing.
Decide who you want to be the recipient of your body:
Before donating, do some research on the various institutions that accept body donations. For peace of mind, make sure the agency is accredited; the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) ensures that your remains will be handled with respect and in accordance with medical standards.
Also, since you are donating make sure the organization you have chosen does not ask you to pay for expenses. For many people, donation is not only attractive because their body will be doing something progressive after they die, but it also cuts out the cost of burial or cremation. Find a place that provides transportation of your body and cremation costs with no charge to your family.
For those interested in helping their alma mater through specific academic departments, some universities even have body donation programs. For context, here is Ohio State University’s appreciation page for those who have donated their bodies to science.
Inform your family after making your decision:
Although your wishes will most likely be respected after you die, it is ultimately up to your family how they decide to mourn your passing. Without proper discussion, they might not understand your reasons for choosing donation and opt for a traditional funeral. Plan early by telling your family in advance since we cannot determine when we die. Donor consent forms and cremation authorization forms need to be filled out—this is best done without the pressure of imminent death or grief. Your family may be surprised at your decision, so it’s best to do research and provide them with factual answers to the numerous questions they will have.
Beyond informing your family of what you would like to happen after you die, this is also be a good opportunity to inform them about your end of life directives. Advance directives include medical and financial power of attorney (who you would like to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated), whether or not you would like to be resuscitated in the event of a catastrophic medical emergency, and also the creation of a living will for how you would like to be medically treated in case you cannot make those decisions on your own. Usually, these conversations are left off until it is too late so the earlier you start planning, the better it is.
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Be aware of the difference between organ donation and body donation:
If you decide to donate your whole body rather than your organs, know that your organs will go with you rather than parsed out to those in need. Oftentimes, people who plan on only donating their organs are unable to due to their advanced age. Even for someone who has followed a healthy diet their whole life, and had optimal health up until their last day, dying of old age often means degenerated organs, cancerous organs, or otherwise weakened body parts which may not be useful as transplants.
In this case your body will be used for medical students, forensic study, disease research, or other forms of testing where the human body is the preferred subject. If your organs are in working order at the time of death then there is a chance both your organs and body will go to different places. If you have a rare disease or form of cancer then donation of your body could help to further research in those areas. When giving a full body, those bodies are kept longer than bodies where the organs have been harvested.
After coming to a decision, be sure to get everything in writing and properly witnessed or notarized. Keep the paperwork and store it with your will so it can be easily found in the event of death. This way there will be no confusion or extra charges after your passing. Determine that everything is clear with your family members, making sure they know exactly how your body will be taken care of; this way the strain of decision making while grieving will be eased.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning offers free care-finding services, reduced cost legal document services, and long-term care benefit application services for those in need.