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A Cheap Death: How to Donate Your Body to Science

Dear Savvy Senior: What can you tell me about body donation programs? With little to no savings, I’m looking for a free or cheap way to dispose of my body after I die. — Old and Broke

Dear Broke: If you’re looking to eliminate your funeral and burial costs, as well as help advance medical research, donating your body to science is a great option.

Body donations

It’s estimated that each year, at least 20,000 people donate their whole body, after death, to medical facilities throughout the country to be used in medical research projects, anatomy lessons and surgical practice.

After using your body, these facilities will then provide free cremation – which typically costs $600 to $4,000 – and will either bury or scatter your ashes in a local cemetery or return them to your family, usually within a year or two.

Your family will not be paid for the use of your body. Federal and state laws prohibit it.

Here are a few other things you need to know and check into:

>> Acceptance rules: Most body donation programs will not accept bodies that are extremely obese, or those that have infectious diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV or MRSA. Bodies that suffered extensive trauma won’t be accepted either.

>> Organ donation: Most programs require that you donate your whole body in its entirety. So if you want to be an organ donor (with the exception of your eyes), you won’t qualify to be a whole body donor.

>> Special requests: Most programs will not allow you to donate your body for a specific purpose. You give them the body and they decide how to use it.

>> Memorial options: Most programs require almost immediate transport of the body after death, so there’s no funeral. If your family wants a memorial service they can have one without the body.

>> Body transporting: Most programs will transport your body to their facility within a certain distance. However, some may charge.

What to do

If you think you want to donate your body, it’s best to make arrangements in advance with a body donation program in your area. Most programs are offered through university-affiliated medical schools. To find one near you, search a list of U.S. programs at Anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms.

In addition to the medical schools, there are private organizations like BioGift (BioGift.org) and Science Care (ScienceCare.com) that accept body donations. Some will even allow organ donation because they deal in body parts as well as whole cadavers.

If you don’t have internet access, you can get help by calling the National Family Service Desk, which operates a free body donation referral service during business hours at 800-727-0700.

Once you locate a program in your area, call and ask them to mail you an information/registration packet that will explain exactly how their program works.

To sign up, you’ll simply need to fill out a couple of forms and return them. But, you can always change your mind by contacting the program and removing your name from their registration list.

After you’ve made arrangements, you’ll need to tell your family members so they will know what to do and who to contact after your death. It’s also a good idea to tell your doctors, so they know your final wishes too.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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