What Does it Mean to Donate Your Body to Science?

Updated April 17, 2017

Many people speak of donating their bodies "to science" after they die, but what does this actually mean? Can you choose the medical or scientific processes for which your body is used? What happens to your remains after the body has served its purpose? Read below to find out.

Where do bodies go?

The majority of donated bodies are sent to medical schools, where the cadavers are used for teaching purposes. Cadavers may be split up--heads sent to be studied by future plastic surgeons and arms to future joint specialists and more.

At the Body Farm, a criminal forensics campus at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, cadavers are exposed to various elements and environments so their decomposition can be studied.

Cadavers may also be used by medical-instrument companies, in military equipment tests and for research in automobile crash-tests. Special projects may occasionally arise (such as Pierre Barbet's fairly notorious crucifixion study), though these are far less common.


How to Donate Your Body

Donating your body to science is fairly straightforward. An Internet search for a "willed body program" will return results for various institutions; these Websites, in turn, usually offer detailed donation information and often donor forms. Many willed body programs will provide you with a wallet identification card.



Partial-body donations--be they organs or tissue--usually prevent the body from being given as a whole-body donation (with the notable exception of corneal donations, which usually do not prevent whole-body donations). The condition of the body, not the age, is the determining factor to its acceptance by a medical facility, so there are generally no age restrictions.

In most cases, it's not possible to specify the process for which your body will be used--it is donated to a medical institution, which then uses the cadaver as it sees fit.

Be sure to include instructions in your will. To avoid surprising your bereaved loved ones and ensure your remains are sent to the place you specify, make sure to notify your family and close friends of your intentions.



No medical schools or state anatomical boards in the United States are permitted to purchase bodies from the families or estates of the deceased. Beware anyone who approaches you with such an offer. While donating your body to science can substantially decrease funeral costs, you should not expect to legally make a profit from the donation.


Many body donations ultimately are rejected by medical institutions for various reasons. It is wise to prepare alternate burial or cremation plans in case the donation is not accepted.


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About the Author

Annie Lee Tatum has been a freelance writer since 2008. Her poetry and articles have appeared in "Ace Weekly," "Kudzu" and various other publications. Tatum received her Bachelor of Arts from Eastern Kentucky University in 2002 and her Master of Arts from the University of Louisville in 2008. Interests include anthropology and cooking.