Good idea to donate your body?

Hi All.
My dad just announced that he wants to donate his body to science. He’s feeling the big slide settling in and surprised me by mentioning plans for the first time.

He has a “Why not, who cares, I sure don’t” attitude and thinks the whole enbalming thing is pretty stupid. (his dad was an undertaker) Part of it is also that it is really cheap way to be done with the whole affair and he is concerned about burdening anyone.

I read the May Harpers article .Ressurection Men" and found that donating your body is like sending it to a rendering plant/ junkyard where you are essentially parted out to the highest bidder fetching up to 250,000.00 bucks for your various handlers. Quite the article… Surplus bodies are sold to the military to be blown up and analyzed. Yow… I then read the brochure that my dad got from the “Service” and it basically said the above, in carefully couched phrases that would let you think that this might actually be a great thing to do.

My question is twofold… one , is there a place you can send your body where it will do some good, be treated with some respect and you get the bits back for a proper finale?

And Two… If someone has done this, How do you handle the funeral? How do you get completion? If you do send it off to a “Service”, what’s the family feeling about just packing someone’s torso / neck/ knees off to be used at various medical equipment sales events. It seems to me that there is a gap there in the whole healing process. I.e. you may or may not get anything back,(ashes) you certainly won’t get it all back, and it’s highly unlikely that what you do get back is who you sent.

What I’m looking for is some experience with wrapping up a great life and helping a family feel complete. Though it does not matter to my dad, I am acutely aware of how treatment of ancestors figures into the cultures I am surrounded by and would like my own kids to gain something by being aware of what they owe their forebearers. I have planted and scattered enough people , but I’ve never parted one out… and am uncomfortable with that gap. BTW… this is not an organ donor scenario, Dad is a high mileage model

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s done this.

Thanks Tai

Medical schools treat their cadavers with great respect. There is none of that “parting out” that you speak of and they sure aren’t going to blow it up in the end. Cadavers are typically used and dissected for a whole semester during a gross anatomy class. They are even given a memorial/gratitude/respect ceremony at the end of the semester. I believe (but am not sure) that the body can be returned returned to the family to be buried next to other family members. I also believe that the donor can have a conventional funeral but the embalming process may be different than usual and may require prior arrangements (not sure about that either).

Mr. Adoptamom and I decided long ago that traditional burials are just a waste of money and lawn. We’re donating our bodies and couldn’t care less if any bits or pieces are returned to our family. Our children are all aware of our choice so there will be no fuss-no muss when the time comes.

Mr. Adoptamoms brother died a couple of years ago and a memorial service was held by friends and family where a nice (living, healthy) picture of him was on display.

Rather a lot of med school cadavers are elderly people with little or no surviving family, so often there’s not really anybody to return them to. And I’m not so sure that most families would want the remains back by the time the med students are done with them. They’re, um, not in the most attractive state at that point. Given what Dr.J told me about gross anatomy, I think I’d take a pass on getting Dad back.

Myself, I don’t care what happens to my carcass after I die. He can donate me for explosion, sell me to a freak show, cremate me and mix me with the cat litter, whatever. Once I’m dead, the body’s just an empty shell to be disposed of, same as a candy bar wrapper. The important part of me’s gone, no matter what happens to my body.

My living will includes instructions about after they don’t code me…I want to be parted out into usable bits, parts of me can go for dissection and anything left over is to be cremated and returned to my lawyer for disposition.

I am thinking of having my ashes parted out - a pinch to a certain friend for scattering someplace special, and the balance added to a batch of synthetic diamond and turned into a certain number of ‘diamond’ chips to be set into memento mori jewelry - something like a lapel pin that is neutral enough to be worn by either sex. [loosely based on the frat pin idea] I do have a gravestone that just needs an end date added=)

Inspector Morse, faced with the prospect of an early demise, decided he wanted to donate his body. He was bemused to be informed by the first official person he spoke to that medical science might not actually want his body, because it was all messed up.

I’m not sure how true-to-life this is.

Not to mention that they are sometimes people living on the streets who have no identification, family, or friends either.

Second-hand experience here (I’d direct you to my mom, but she has first-hand experience, and thus, cannot relay her story to the world).

Per Mom’s wishes, we donated her body to the Anatomical Gift Society. I’m 99% sure your body will be used by a med school in your home state. Mom died in June of '98. There is no enbalming of the body. You say your goodbyes at the house or hospital. The body is used to train young doctors in the best possible arena: The Human Body. Because of religious hang-ups and such, people are freaked out by the concept of their dead body being cut and prodded. Consequently, there are really very few doctors who train on real bodies. Most of the work is done with virtual humans and animals. The need for human cadavers is very great.

So…Dad gets my Mom’s ashes back right before Christmas (they told us it could go as long as 18 months!). They include a note thanking the family for providing such a valuable service. We picked out a nice hand-made vase with a lid and when the ground thawed in March, we interred her ashes in a plot previously bought by my grandparents. Then it was back to Dad’s for Chinese food and memories.

I consider this to be my Mom’s final act of kindness and I urge you to carry out your Dad’s wishes. I can’t think of a better legacy.

They don’t embalm the body in the way we’re used to corpses for traditional funereals being embalmed, but they do preserve the body. Gross anatomy is a few months long, after all, and without preservation the cadavers would be useless for teaching purposes very quickly. I don’t think they use formalin these days, but whatever it is, it stinks to high heaven. The smell seeps into your pores and hair, so that no matter how much you wash, you can’t get rid of it. That is why med students don’t get invited much of anywhere those first few months. Well, that, and the fact that they’re prone to telling stories about how difficult it is to disarticulate the head, which some people find off-putting.

As for the scarcity of cadavers, there certainly didn’t seem to be any shortage six years ago, at least not in Kentucky. Of course, they work in teams of five or so in gross, so a med school with a class of 100 only needs 20 or so cadavers a year.

I should have clarified…they don’t enbalm the body so that you can have a service before it is sent off to school. They specifically require that the body arrives to them unenbalmed. I’m sure this is so they can use the stuff that will allow the body to be worked on for a long period (and stink up all who work on it!).

As for the scarcity of cadavers, there certainly didn’t seem to be any shortage six years ago, at least not in Kentucky. Of course, they work in teams of five or so in gross, so a med school with a class of 100 only needs 20 or so cadavers a year.

Take a look at this site, particularly the “readings” tab. The whole site is interesting. In Illinois, they use lots of cadavers and can always use more.


:smack: Sorry…I didn’t set your “As for scarcity…” paragraph off in quote. That is Crazy’s statement. Mine follows.

My grandparents have donated their bodies to the U of M, as well my parents have expressed their wishes for the same, and I’m following in that tradition. To us, burials always seemed a bit selfish (YMMV).

I can confirm this by personal experience, when Mrs Trupa went through medschool. (McGill U. - Montreal) The memorial service was quite moving.

Get yourself a copy of “Stiffs: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” by Mary Roach. It is a terrific, and very well written, book concerning the uses that human remains are put to. I really recommend it.

My will includes a request that my body be used for organ donation, if possible, and if that is not possible (or if only the corneas are taken), that my corpse be given to Duke Medical School. I know there are instances where body parts are sold and so forth, but I think if you donate directly to a medical school that’s less likely.

To get details, just call the local medical school - they will have literature outlining what you need to do, from early preparations to how the body gets to them.

I figure my death will probably be a horrible event for some people - and I’m certainly not looking forward to it - so why not get the greatest possible benefit from an unavoidable circumstance?

plnnr; was just going to recommend that book also.

I have just started reading it, and I think it is a great look at what goes on with bodies donated for science now and in the past. It has a fair bit of humor to it, but not in a disrespectful way.
My dad was a mortician/funeral home director for a number of years, and he wants to borrow the book when I am done with it.

I think that if your dad wishes to donate his body, I think you should honor his request. It may be difficult to think about, I mean Hey! it’s your dad. My mom recently told me that she wishes to be creamated, she is not ill or dying at the moment, but I am kind of uncomfortable with it, but that is what she desires. So I will do my part to honor that wish when she dies.

I am pretty sure that the parting out and selling the “pieces” to the highest seller is a rare and extremely frowned upon happening, but the bad news always gets the most press in situations such as that. The reputable donation organizations do get as much spotlight.

I mean bidder… oops :o

My cousin donated his body to a large medical school. The family received a shoebox with his cremains* about 2 years later for burial.

A friend of mine had very pronounced tumors throughout her body when she finally died. She had arranged for body donation years before and her family contacted the medical school when she entered hospice care. Immediately on death, her body was turned over to the school. They told the family that the body would not be preserved in order for the students to really benefit from studying the tumors. The family had the cremains back within 2 weeks.

*cremains - cremated remains

I always think about the number of people that a death can help…whether by teaching students how to heal or by donating. I read an article once stating that up to eight people benefitted from one dead person. The corneas, kidney, liver, bone, and so forth. It’s so much better than just taking up real estate.

Thanks for all the input. I have no problem at all with dad’s request and am actually looking forward to his inevitable cracks about finally getting to go to medical school.
I will pick up the book…Stiffs… I wish I could link the harper’s article so that you could understand how wierd this whole thing can get. It is May " Resurrection Men" for anyone who might find a copy. I thought it was a pretty balanced look at a pretty bizzare way to make a living. It opens with a truckload of torsos showing up at a Florida hotel ballroom where doctors get to check out a new tool for kidney surgery. Basically just another trade show. It just seems that there would be better way to handle this and It sounds like working with our local med school would provide the most use. I will check that out.

Thanks Again