The Case for Posthumous Body Donation

Between the expenses of venues and caskets and the rise of non traditional routes such as composting human remains, these days a traditional funeral isn’t the only option afforded to people when deciding how they want their remains handled after death. In fact, a study in 2016 confirmed that cremation has now surpassed burial as the most popular way to deal with remains, a trend that has apparently been increasing since the mid 1980’s. After all, both cremation and composting are cheaper than the cost of embalming and burial plots. In our modernized society they’re more logical too, since fewer people live and die in the same place.

There is, however, another option. Body donation is the practice of donating one’s body after death to an institution or hospital for medical study and education. Like organ donation, body donation allows the body to be studied and examined for scientific research. Unlike organ donation, body donation is just that, body donation. In the case of body donation the body is donated as a whole. While initial reaction to the prospect of body donation may range from intrigue to utter disdain, it’s important to take a holistic view of the practice to understand it fully.

The Case

The biggest benefit of body donation is the advancement of medicine. Medical schools across the nation train tomorrow’s physicians in the art of healing. And in order to do so, those future doctors need to have a full understanding of the human body. While some schools have moved to adopt online modules in place of physical use of cadavers, nothing can prepare a medical student quite like a real body. Access to the human body also allows for study on pathology and disease progression. And while the need for bodies has begun to rise, donations have fallen. For example, the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois has seen a drop of 240 in yearly donations in the last thirty years. This drop in donation has left medical schools in a body deficit and has become an impediment to them getting the bodies they need to train future physicians.

For those who elect to donate their remains to science there is a sense of pride in being a part of something bigger. Body donations open the doors for scientific research and inquiry that can only be stimulated with access to a real body.

When the remains have been utilized by the institutions they are sent to they are cremated and returned to the family.

The Cost

Depending on which organization you go through body donation can be relatively inexpensive. Some independent organizations offer to pick up the remains for free, which could save your family time and money. If you elect to donate to a medical school there will likely be a small fee for your family to pay a funeral home to take the body.

The Point

We are aware that things like tradition, faith background, or plain disinterest play a role in the decision of whether or not to donate your body. We also know that what you want done with your remains after your death, at the end of the day, is a deeply personal question that only you can answer. Whether you choose a traditional funeral, cremation, or something else you are justified in that decision. Whatever decision you make it is important to record it in your will so that those who survive you will have clear instructions on your final wishes.

For more information on the science and facts behind body donation for medical research read this interesting article published by National Geographic.

Published 03/31/2021.