Emotions often run strong when individuals discuss what they want to happen to their bodies after death. Some want to pull out all of the stops and have a multi-day celebration. Others focus on adhering to the tenets and requirements of their faith. Others want minimal fuss and expense, and still others want to donate their body to science.

But what does that mean, exactly?

Whole body donation is different than organ donation, in which a deceased person’s organs or tissues may be transplanted into a living person’s body. With whole body donation, the entire body may be donated to medical schools for use in physician training. Medical schools are prohibited from paying to receive the bodies; however, there is no charge to donate. (Some schools have a maximum distance that staff will travel to collect the body. After exceeding that distance, the estate would be responsible for paying the cost of transportation. Local schools are often a good fit for individuals wishing to donate their bodies, but each school has different procedures and requirements. Consider your options carefully.)

Interestingly, not every body is a good candidate for donation. Medical schools tend to reject bodies that have been badly injured (for instance, in a car wreck) or contain contagious diseases such as HIV or those that are morbidly obese. UNT’s Serenity Program allows terminally ill patients to know whether their body would be accepted. If the screening process indicates that the body would be a good fit for UNT’s program, staff can work with the patient (or next of kin) to complete the paperwork for donation registration.

After study of the body has been completed, schools are mandated by law to cremate the remains. Ashes can be returned to the family, scattered or buried at sea. Each school has different policies for disposition of the body – this is another reason to consider carefully which program to choose.

If you are interested in donating your body to scientific study, the first step is to make sure that your wishes are known. Talk to your family or loved ones, particularly if you think they might not share your preferences. Next, make sure that your wishes are recorded in your will or in a standalone Appointment for Disposition of Remains document. Research the medical schools nearest to you, and determine which is the best fit. Many have preferred documentation and registration processes. Having that documentation complete prior to death will greatly speed the process for your loved ones. Finally, make sure that you have a back-up plan, such as cremation or burial, in the event that your body is rejected.

Contact Balmos Law today to discuss your options, and to ensure that your wishes are recorded and respected.

Willed Body Programs

UT Southwestern: https://www.utsouthwestern.edu/research/programs/willed-body/

University of North Texas: https://www.unthsc.edu/academic-affairs/academic-and-institutional-resources-and-technology/center-for-anatomical-sciences/willed-body-program/

Texas Tech: https://www.ttuhsc.edu/medicine/medical-education/dome_anatomywbp.aspx

UT McGovern: https://med.uth.edu/nba/willed-body-program/

Additional resources: https://www.donatelifetexas.org/learn-more/resources-links/whole-body-donation/