My, this is so cheery as I face my 42nd birthday (March 2, gifts and Amazon gift certificates welcome! HA! Just kidding, cash is preferred. :P )
The other day a friend of mine on Facebook posted about how wasteful cemeteries are. He wrote, "Cemeteries are not a good idea. Natural resources are wasted, financial strain is put on the less fortunate, mass plots of land are deforested for coffins and burial space, names are forgotten, space is further limited, more natural resources are wasted, and religion is reinforced. We must critically think about alternatives." I agree!
So I commented about donating your body to science and he asked how to go about it. He'd never heard of it. Then I wondered, do most people not know about this final charitable act? I should find out more for myself and others and then write about it!
First, you have 2 options for donating your body after death. One is organ donation, which you can do through your state, when you renew your driver's license (I was able to sign up online). You can help up to 8 people with your donation, how cool is that? Some of those people will get a new lease on life because of you.
Did you know even an 80 year old can be an organ donor? So make sure you have your organ donor card.
The problem is, you have to die under rather specific circumstances to be able to be an organ donor. You have to basically die where you can be ventilated immediately. So if you die at home or in an accident, unless an ambulance can start ventilating you, your organs can't be used. Only 1-3% of people die in a way that they can be a donor.
UPDATE: There is actually one program, Science Care, that lets you both donate your organs for transplant then the rest of your body for science. See below for more information. This is the program Butch and I are looking to sign up with.
In some of these cases you could still do option 2, which is donate your whole body to science.
There are 2 ways a body is used when donated this way, either for education or research. While you can save up to 8 lives with organ donation, this whole body donation can save countless lives by training potential doctors and/or helping people do important research.
One thing is, usually if you donate your organs, you can't donate the rest of your body to science. They want the whole package. One exception is the corneas usually, but find out for sure and make sure your loved ones know so your wishes can be carried out if possible.
Another thing to keep in mind is there are some conditions that will mean that your body is not accepted. Some places don't take morbidly obese or someone with AIDs for example. Check with the program you choose.
Google "donate my body to science" or "willed body program" plus your state. Because you want to be "fresh" when you are donated, you will want to stay within a decent radius of your home area.
If you want to know what is done with the bodies, I recommend Stiff by Mary Roach. I haven't read the book but I've heard her interviewed and I think the book might be very interesting. Anyway, I won't go into details, but the bodies are handled with respect.
Some programs will cremate the final remains and send the ashes back to your loved ones. Sometimes this is their protocol, sometimes you have to request it in writing, so if that's important to you, find out when you sign your papers. Even if you don't sign up ahead of time, you can still have your body donated to science by your family. But do them a favor and take care of it ahead of time to make the process easier for them and quicker.
Most programs don't let you designate who or what type of research is done to your body. You pick the program or school that will suit your wishes and then they decide how to use your body when they get it.
And it has to be a donation, in accordance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA). You can't sell your body or parts for any reason.
In my area, there are 2 universities that accept willed bodies, WVU and Marshall, for education. Here is a list of US Body Donation Programs.
I am particular to having my body used for research, though, which is a bit more challenging. For that, I've found 3 companies that handle bodies: (UPDATED)
- Science Care covers all expenses. It is one of the only programs to allow you to donate your organs for transplant first, and it is also one of the only programs that is accredited with the AATB. It's also accredited with the BBB.
- BioGift covers all expenses, accredited with the BBB.
- LifeQuest Anatomical covers all expenses, accredited with the BBB.
Here are some other resources:
- The Straight Dope (describes what is done with your body, along with other information)
- AATB: American Association of Tissue Banks (link is to the search engine for Accredited Banks. The AATB sets ethical guidelines to respect the family and the body)
I know it's not fun to think about such things, but imagine helping others even after you've died. Plus, if you find a university or organization that will have your remains cremated afterward, you are easing the burden from your family. Not to mention all the lives you can help or save by doing this generous and thoughtful act, nearly effortlessly.