What happens when you donate your body to science?

Written by c.h. cooney
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What happens when you donate your body to science?
Science wants your body. (Body image by Snezana Skundric from Fotolia.com)

Death does not have to be the end of the road for your body. By donating your body to science, it can go on to have a multitude of adventures while helping to advance the medical field. Cadavers have been used to improve every type of surgical procedure, from heart and lung transplants, to tummy tucks and sex change operations. Parts of donated bodies have also been shot into space as passengers on the space shuttle.

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Immediately After Death

After you die, the medical school, university or private company that you've donated your body to will arrange the transfer of your body to their facility. The anatomy labs of the medical schools and universities have first priority when a cadaver comes in. If you donate your body to a university or medical school, your family may be required to pay for certain processing fees. Private companies, such as Science Care, cover all donation related costs and also deliver your unused cremated remains to your family. Science Care supplies donated cadavers to hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

Cosmetic Uses

Your body (or parts of it) can end up at a medical conference where surgeons will sharpen their skills on you. In "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," author Mary Roach describes observing a facial anatomy and face lift refresher course for plastic surgeons. The room was set up with folding tables where 40 roasting pans were placed. Each roasting pan contained a human head. Attending surgeons paid £325 a piece to practice face lifts on the heads, which had also recently received nose jobs at another conference.


Your body could be used to further the study of human decay. By analysing the chemical and biological phases a body goes through when it decays, forensic specialists can get a better idea of the time and manner of death. In order to simulate what an actual killer might do to dispose of their victim, your body could be placed in a shallow grave, the boot of a car or the hot sun to decay.

Impact Studies

Cadavers are also used to test the effectiveness of a variety of safety equipment. Your body could be used in experiments designed to discover how much force the human body can withstand before substantial injury. Your body may be banged around in a side-impact crash, hit in the face with a baseball or even be subjected to a landmine explosion. These types of grisly experiments have led to the saving of thousands of lives.

Donor's Rights

The control that you or your family will have over your donated remains is minimal. If you have objections to your body being used in certain ways, you should make it clear on your donor form or include an attached note. It's important to ask the university, school or private company receiving your body if your requests will be honoured. A customer representative at Science Care stated that although they "try to accommodate" a donor's requests, there is no guarantee that they'll be able to.

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