Anatomical Board of the State of Texas
Information for Whole-body Donation
[For additional clarification, please contact a Willed Body Program in your area.]
Q: How do I will my body to science?
A: Call the Willed Body Program (WBP) at one of the Anatomical Board member institutions and request that body donation forms be sent to you. These forms will provide you with information about the WBP, including contact information. Upon receipt, complete the forms, have them witnessed if necessary, and return the originals to the WBP.
Q: If I am signed up with an organ donation center, can I still donate my body to science?
A: Most WBPs will not accept a body after its organs have been removed for transplantation. If only eyes or skin are donated, however, most WBPs will accept the body. You may register with both the organ donation center and the WBP so that at the time of death you may be able to donate the whole body if the organs are not usable for transplantation.
Q: Can a body be donated for research into a specific disease?
A: In general, no. The primary use of the cadaver is for medical education. Most modern research methods require rapid retrieval of tissue before decomposition begins. WBPs are generally not prepared for rapid retrieval. Some programs may be able to accommodate specific requests, but advanced notice is usually required.
Making the Donation
Q: When a person dies, what does the family do?
A: At the time of death, the family contacts the WBP, which has its own telephone contact number. Let them know that a pre-willed arrangement was made by the deceased, or that the nearest surviving relative wishes to make a donation to the WBP.
Q: How does one cancel a body donation?
A: Written notification to the WBP is requested, but not necessary. If the WBP does not receive notification of the death of a donor, it will not know to remove the body.
Q: Should a notation be made in the will of someone donating his/her body?
A: Yes, but it is not required. Doing so would emphasize your desire to make the donation. Consult an attorney for additional clarification of this type of question.
Q: In the event that someone dies and hasn't filled out the proper documentation prior to death, can the body still be donated by a relative or next of kin?
A: It is possible in principle, but WBPs have different policies. Some require the paperwork to be completed before donation, but others will accept a donation made by the family after death.
Q: What if I live outside of the city limits, will the Willed Body Program still pick up the body?
A: WBPs have different policies. Most will provide transportation from any point, but will assume the full cost of transportation only within a limited distance. Costs of transfer outside the limit are the responsibility of the family or estate. Those costs are generally paid directly to the carrier at the time of removal.
Criteria for acceptance
Q: Are all donations accepted?
A: No. All WBPs have criteria for acceptance. A person may meet all criteria at the time the paperwork is submitted, but there is no guarantee that they will still meet criteria when the donation is actually made. Therefore, the family has to be prepared for the possibility that other arrangements will be required.
Q: What are the criteria for accepting a donation?
A: WBPs have different policies. In general, a donation will be accepted if it is intact, if it is free from a highly contagious disease, and if it is of roughly normal size. A donation may be declined if severe injuries were sustained in an accident, or if organs were removed for transplant or autopsy (but see next question). It may be declined if there is a recent history of septicemia, hepatitis, jaundice, venereal disease, tuberculosis, AIDS, a resistant form of an infection, such as MRSA, or gangrene. A donation will generally not be accepted if it is too large for storage or if it is edematous.
Q: Do you accept a body which has been autopsied?
A: WBPs have different policies. In general, an autopsied body is not a good teaching specimen for the study of human anatomy. However, some WBPs may support special projects for which an autopsied specimen would be suitable. Therefore, the family may call the WBP at the time of death to determine whether the WBP would accept an autopsied body.
Q: Will the body need to be embalmed?
A: No. Most WBPs prefer to do their own embalming. If a body is already embalmed, however, it may still be accepted if it meets the WBP’s specifications.
Q: Are there age restrictions for body donation?
A: Most WBPs do not accept infants or children.
Q: What do you do with the body and how long do you keep it?
A: The bodies are used in the teaching of anatomy to advanced students in the health professions. Most bodies are dissected by students and cremated after the course, but some specimens may be retained for permanent preservation. Bodies may also be used for special research and development projects and for continuing education of health professionals.
Q: If a body is donated to a Willed Body Program, can I be sure that it will be used at that institution?
A: In general, the bodies are used by the WBPs to which they are donated. The Anatomical Board has the authority to transfer specimens to other institutions to meet the broader needs of health professional education. These additional uses include WBPs for physical therapists, physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, etc. They may also be transferred to hospitals for continuing medical education. In addition, some WBPs support health professions programs in other states. In that case, remains must be returned to the providing program in Texas.
Q: What do you do with the remains when you are finished?
A: The official disposition of remains is through cremation, a process in which high temperature is used to reduce remains to ashes. The ashes, called cremains, are the mineral remains of the bony skeleton. Soft tissues, like muscles and organs, do not contribute to cremains.
The cremation is usually performed at no cost to the family or estate. The cremains may be returned, however, to a designated person upon request. Most WBPs charge a fee for return of the cremains. Because use of the cadavers is generally for courses that start in the fall of each year, it may be 2 years or more before cremains are available for return to the family.
Some WBPs have procedures that keep all of the soft tissues and organs with the cadaver throughout the dissection. The cadaver and accumulated soft tissue is then cremated at the same time. Other WBPs will cremate soft tissue separately as courses progress. WBPs may also have different policies regarding cremation of the entire skeletal remains at the same time. For example, a specimen may be retained permanently or be in use for a research project that extends over a long period of time. In those cases, the specimens will be cremated separately.
Q: Is the family notified that a body is being cremated?
A: In general, the family is not notified that a body is being cremated. The family will be notified after cremation if they have requested in advance return of the cremains. Please make sure that the WBP has current contact information. It is not uncommon for notification letters to be returned as undeliverable. In those cases, the cremains will be disposed according to WBP policy, either by interment or scattering.