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Donating Your Body to a Medical School

Updated on April 28, 2014

Giving organs or total body to grateful recipients

It's a tough issue that many people would rather not consider: the administrative and practical problems at the time of transition to the next life. Perhaps because of this reluctance to deal with one's own death, it seems that the useful information is not easily available. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that this is an area covered by state law. Therefore, variations exist depending where one is when the chariots come to take him or her onward.

Glorious beauty.
Glorious beauty. | Source

Organ donation

In Pennsylvania, choosing this charitable act is made relatively easy. When obtaining or renewing your driver's license, you are asked to check a box if you want to be an organ donor. Ta-da! You are done. Beneath your picture on the license, the words "organ donor" are printed and your wishes are now known. Another option is to telephone 1-877-DONOR-PA to have a card to carry with the same information. For further information in PA, you can contact the Department of Health.

A funny story

As easy as it is to learn how to help others in desperate need of an organ, it is perversely difficult to figure out how to aid medical research through the donation of your entire body. I am the caregiver for a family member with incurable, slow-growing leukemia. For tried the last three years I tried intermittently to learn what the procedures are in my state. These attempts included calling the organ donation people and calling medical schools. No knowledgeable sources were reached. However, since there was no urgency I let the inquiry slide.

Recently, however, I experienced a scare which required nailing down the process. This time I tried calling a research facility associated with a medical school. The lovely person with whom I spoke did not know the answers, but assured me she would locate someone who could help me. True to her word, she arranged for another in the vast complex to call me an hour later.

This person identified herself as staff with the cancer research. She praised me and thanked us for our desire to support the field of medicine through body donation. Then she explained, "We do research, but we are not prepared to ....[awkward pause] accept the kind of gift you are offering." Well, in matters such as these you've got to laugh or cry. I just cracked up. She was so sweet in trying to put so delicately the news about not wanting a corpse.

There must be a better place....
There must be a better place....

Uniform Anatomical Gift Act

Here is part of the reason I had trouble with my research. I was using search keywords such as "body" and "donate." However, the magic term seems to be anatomical gifts. Again, this is a process that varies by state, but a conference of commissioners who propose the language for state laws have developed a recommendation which they hope all states will follow.

Medical school donation

I was directed to people who could answer my questions. Although I will not bet the house on my having it completely straight, here is the procedure in Pennsylvania. There is a non-profit agency named The Humanity Gifts Registry. This agency, in existence since 1883, deals with record-keeping of donors, and the receipt and distribution of these priceless donations. Potential donors must complete two copies of a very short card and sign it with two witnesses. One card is mailed to the registry and the other is kept by the donor. When the time comes, the Registry has a 24/7 phone number.

Humanity Gifts Registry

P.O.Box 835

Philadelphia, PA 19102-0835

(215) 922-4440

Costs and considerations

Despite this being one of the ultimate gifts, in PA there will be costs for the family or survivors. You will want to check into this. Also, some options for final resting place may be taken away when you make a donation to a medical school. And, there is a slim possibility that the donated body may not be suitable for medical school use. These are all matters you may want to explore and understand.

Photo by Chris Holloway
Photo by Chris Holloway | Source

If you have a personality style or preference for being prepared, I hope this article has been of use to you. PLEASE add comments if you can enlighten readers how things work in other states. Namaste.

Copyright 2008 Maren E. Morgan


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    • moonlake profile image


      10 years ago from America

      I think you are right by putting a time frame in your instructions.

      Your right it was a glorious miracle that our son is still alive today. little short term memory loss but don't we all have that.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile imageAUTHOR

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      10 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Moonlake, thank you for sharing this experience.  It gives me goosebumps for many reasons.  Foremost, however, is how blessed you are that some inner knowledge or guidance was leading you to deny the permission and that you have your son with you today.  I am not in the medical field, but it sounds like to have him alive and brain normal is a glorious miracle.  I can understand your change of heart on having the organ donor designation on your licenses.  However, at the same time you recognize that donating is a good thing.  Maybe your family's role in the grand plan was to help hospitals become more organized and sensitive to asking patients' families to sign the forms??  (I think that asking once a day should be the maximum frequency.)

      I am probably getting verbose, but I have left instructions with my brother - who would be my guardian if I am unconscious - that I would like to be kept alive for 2 weeks.  After that, feel free to pull the plug and start recycling my usable parts.  However, I am 53 years old, not 28.  But I think that my stating a time frame in advance will relieve all relatives from any guilt or doubts if such a situation occurs.

       Again, I am so happy for you and your family and thanks for giving us all more information.

    • moonlake profile image


      10 years ago from America

      Can't tell you how things work in our state but I can give you a donor story.

      Our son 5 years ago received a brain injury. He was 28. The day after he arrived at the hospital and all test were finished they ask us to sign for him to be a donor. They told us he was brain dead. I just couldn't do it I was worried they would turn off the machines and not try to save him..Everyday for two weeks more then once a day they ask us to sign to take him off life support and sign for him to be a donor. We said "no you do all that you can to save him. When we think it is the right time we will sign." I heard the nurses talking about us and how foolish we were. Long story short. Our son is alive today and living a normal life.

      I know how much donors are needed and I know that someday I may need one of those donors. I have a bad heart.

      I still believe everyone should sign a donor card or whatever. It was just a decision we couldn't make for our son. Because of what happened to us in this hospital we have taken the organ donor off of our driver's license and all of our kids have.


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