Body donation

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"Even in death do we serve life": Inscription on a communal grave dedicated to body donors

Body donation is the donation of the whole body after death for medical research and education. For years, only medical schools accepted whole bodies for donation, but now private programs also accept donors.

Body donation is useful for understanding the human body and for advancing science. Medical schools use whole embalmed bodies to teach anatomy to medical students. These organizations will often cover the cost of cremation or burial once the cadaver has served its medical purpose and is returned to the family for interment. Any person wishing to donate their body may be required, but not always, to make prior arrangements with the local medical school, university, or body donation program before death. Individuals may request a consent form, and will be supplied information about policies and procedures that will take place after the potential donor is deceased.

Each country may have differing regulations surrounding the donation of the body or body parts.

United Kingdom[edit]

Body donation in the UK is governed by the Human Tissue Authority under the auspices of the Human Tissue Act 2004. The HTA licenses and inspects establishments, such as medical schools, which teach anatomy using donated bodies. Under the Human Tissue Act, written consent must be given prior to death; consent cannot be given by anyone else after death. [1]

United States[edit]

Only the legal next-of-kin of the deceased can provide the necessary consent for donation if the donor did not provide it to the specific accepting program prior to death.

Body donation is not regulated through licensure and inspection by the federal government and most states, however, United States House Bill 5318 was introduced on July 31, 2014 under the Energy and Commerce Committee. If passed as written, Health and Human Services would oversee the industry. Any entity (including US Medical Schools) are subject to this legislation if tissue crosses state lines.

The legal right for an individual to choose body donation is governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act which has been largely adopted by most states. Laws relating to the transportation and disposition of human bodies currently apply, regardless of the recent House Bill introduced.

The American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) provides accreditation to non-transplant tissue bank research and education programs to establish that the level of medical, technical and administrative performance meets or exceeds the standards set by the AATB. Whole body donation and non-transplant tissue banking remains an industry with limited regulation, and while it is not a legal requirement, accreditation allows for individuals choosing to donate their body to medical research or education programs to choose a program with the highest quality standards.

The American Medical Education and Research Association (AMERA) is a peer-recognized national accrediting body in the United States to provide accreditation to organizations using standards developed solely for non-transplant organizations. This includes whole body donor organizations, university anatomical programs, bio-repository programs and end users of human tissue. AMERA encourages the industry to become accredited and involved in establishing standards that are relevant to non-clinical tissue organizations.


In India, through various amendments to the Odisha Anatomy Act, some states have legalized voluntary body donation.[2] Some leaders donated their body for medical research like communist leader Jyoti Basu[3] and Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh.[4] Nowadays, many people in India donate their bodies after death by signing a pledge form with two accompanying witness signatures.[5]

Motives behind the decision[edit]

The decision to become a body donor is influenced by factors such as: social awareness, cultural attitudes and perceptions of body donation, cultural attitudes and perceptions of death, religion, and perceptions of the body-mind relationship.[6] Studies indicate most donors are primarily driven by altruism and their desire to aid the advancement of medical knowledge and to be useful after death.[7] Other reasons include helping future generations, expressing gratitude for life and good health or for the medical field, to avoid a funeral or to avoid waste.[8]

The offering of financial incentives as a way to increase donor numbers or as an acknowledgement for donors is generally considered to detract from the act of donation and serve as a deterrent.[9] However, a US study showing a positive correlation between body donation numbers and funeral cover cost savings offered as compensation suggests that, in reality, the added incentive could be a persuasive factor for donors.[10]


  1. ^ Human Tissue Authority Body Donation FAQs in the UK
  2. ^ "Law change spurs body donation". Times of India. 21 May 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Body donation: Buddha, Biman and many more ready to follow suit". The Indian Express. 21 January 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  4. ^ "68 BJP leaders pledge to donate their bodies". Times of India. 23 July 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "110 to pledge body donation to further medical education". Times of India. 7 June 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Savulescu, J. (2003). Death, Us and Our Bodies: Personal Reflections. Journal of Medical Ethics, 29(3), 127-130.
  7. ^ Bolt, S., Venbrux, E., Eisinga, R., Kuks, J. B. M., Veening, J. G., Gerrits, P. O. (2010). Motivation for body donation to science: More than an altruistic act. Annals of Anatomy, 192(2), 70-74.
  8. ^ Bolt, S., Venbrux, E., Eisinga, R., Kuks, J. B. M., Veening, J. G., Gerrits, P. O. (2010). Motivation for body donation to science: More than an altruistic act. Annals of Anatomy, 192(2), 70-74.
  9. ^ Ajita, R. & Singh, I. (2007). Body Donation and Its Relevance in Anatomy Learning – A Review. Journal of the Anatomical Society of India, 56(1), 44-47.
  10. ^ Harrington, D. E. & Sayre, E. A. (2007). Paying for Bodies, But Not for Organs. Regulation, 29(4), 14-19.

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