What Does it Mean to Be an Organ Donor and a Whole Body Donor?

Anatomical donation typically refers to the donation of the whole body to medical or scientific research. Once donated, the body may be used for surgical training, scientific research, and anatomy lessons for medical students, promoting the advancement of medical science.

Organ donation, on the other hand, refers to the donation of organs after death that, if approved for donation, would be transplanted into another living person.

What Organs Can Be Donated After Death?


Organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, small intestines, and kidneys can be donated after death along with tissues such as corneas, skin, veins, bones, heart valves, tendons, and ligaments. Because organs are living tissue and begin to decompose quickly after loss of blood flow, donation and transplantation must happen almost immediately after death.

The American Transplant Foundation estimates that “one deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save and enhance more than 100 lives through the lifesaving and healing gift of tissue donation.”

UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, along with other organ distributers, uses strict standards and criteria to match organs and ensure the fair distribution of organs to recipients. Organ and tissue donors are treated with the utmost respect, and an open-casket funeral is often possible after donation. No costs will be incurred by the donor’s family for organ and tissue donation, although costs may be applied for services carried out before official time of death. When being treated for medical reasons, organ donation cannot be considered until brain death has been declared by a physician. All donations are anonymous unless approval from the recipient is given.

For more about the laws and regulations surrounding organ donation, refer to the Uniform Law Commission’s summary of the Anatomical Gift Act of 2006.

Is It Possible to Be An Organ Donor And a Whole Body Donor?

It is technically possible to register as both an organ donor and a whole body donor. However, when registering for both, applicants should understand that organ donation for transplant will take first priority, meaning that if organs are selected and approved for donation, whole body donation will likely be refused for study at the majority of medical facilities or universities because of the compromised integrity of the body as a whole.

Many times, however, those registered as organ donors are often not in the position at time of death to be candidates for donation. In fact, many potential organ donors are not approved for transplant after death because of the stringent restrictions and criteria for organ donation and the timing of immediate donation after death. Cancer, heart disease, lung disease, potentially malignant tumors, and other preexisting conditions often rule out organ donation candidates. In addition, proximity to the hospital or the need to perform an autopsy (when means of death are questionable) can also prevent organ donation. Because of these restrictions, many bodies of organ donors remain uncompromised and could still be donated to science or willed to a university after death if the donor so wished.

Registering as both is technically possible, but if whole body donation is desired, it is wise to register as only a whole body donor to ensure the fulfillment of final wishes.

How Do I Donate My Body?


When considering whole body donation, the first step is to be sure to communicate your wishes to relatives and next of kin to avoid any confusion after death. Next, contact the medical facilities (often university-affiliated) where you would like to donate your body, fill out the necessary paperwork, and request information and educational materials so that you and your family members can understand the specific procedures, requirements, and restrictions of whole body donation at this specific location. To be well informed, be sure to ask questions about the facility, costs associated with donation, and the procedures of donation. Check this list by Donate Life Texas for some helpful questions to ask donation facilities.

To find a facility near you that accepts whole body donations, visit the University of Florida’s website that lists whole body donation programs in each state. You can also organize whole body donation through private organizations, such as United Tissue Network,  Science Care, and others.

Then, be sure to provide the contact information of your chosen donation facility and instructions for your relatives so they can be prepared and know who to contact upon death. Finally, you will want to produce a clear, written directive and inform your primary doctor about your intentions.

What Does Whole Body Donation Cost?

There is no set answer to the question of cost for whole body donation because policies differ among donation facilities. Be sure to consult with your donation facility of choice to plan for costs that will not be covered by the facility. Many times, donation facilities will arrange and pay for body transportation (unless the body needs to be moved a lengthy distance), eventual cremation, and the return of cremated remains to family. The family should expect to pay for the cost of legal documentation of death and any funeral services conducted before the release of the body to the donation facility.

Under no circumstances will your family receive monetary compensation for your donation as the buying and selling of bodies is prohibited by Federal law.

Procedure of Whole Body Donation


Some donation facilities allow a certain amount of time after death for a funeral service to be performed. However, some facilities require that notification and transportation of the body occur soon after death, meaning that funeral services with the body present may not be possible.

After the death of a loved one, family members should notify the facility of the donor’s death and proceed appropriately. Often, this means coordinating with a representative of the donation clinic who will review acceptance protocol and determine, along with a health care representative from the hospital, medical facility, or hospice facility where the death occurs, whether the body can be accepted.

Whole body studies are typically completed under two years, but can also last as long as five years. Upon the completion of study, bodies are typically cremated as the means of final disposition, unless otherwise noted by the donor’s family.

Whole Body Donation Restrictions

Although universities and medical facilities are in constant need of whole body donations for study, most programs reserve the right to refuse donation. For example, organ donors are frequently refused for the reason that the body can best be studied when it is intact (for this reason, if you intend to donate your body to medical science, you may consider removing yourself from the organ donation list).

In addition, bodies may not be accepted if the body was significantly damaged in a car accident, the body is morbidly obese or emaciated, the donor has a contagious or infectious disease (HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C, etc.), the body has been autopsied, or for the simple reason that donations are not needed by the facility at the time. Check with your chosen university or facility to learn more about specific restrictions.

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