Why donate your body to science?

There aren’t any good national statistics, but The Orange County Register estimated in 1999 that at least 17,500 people donate their bodies to science each year in the US. Most of them are donated to universities and are used for anatomical study at medical schools, or for surgical practice at medical conferences. (In 2004, more than 225 people donated their bodies to Minnesota medical schools.) But others are used in wide-ranging experiments—situations where it would be impossible or unethical to use living people.

von hagens headshotDr. Gunther von Hagens, licensed physician, anatomist, inventor of Plastination and creator of BODY WORLDS, says,

"By donating your body, you will…be doing everything possible as a layman to improve [doctors’] level of training. …You will be passing the medical care given to you, which started with the treatment that your mother received before you were born, on to future generations."

McArthur headshotAngela McArthur, chair of the Minnesota Commission of the Procurement and Use of Anatomical Donations, says,

"Donation is key to advancing research and education that leads to identifying diseases and health conditions and the development of treatments and cures."

Donated bodies help to:

  • train doctors and surgeons,
  • ensure automobile safety,
  • test protective equipment (boots for soldiers, for example, or bulletproof vests for police officers, or helmets for bikers and snowboarders),
  • inform homicide investigations,
  • discover new drugs and discover dangerous drug interactions,
  • develop and improve medical devices,
  • study and treat injuries and diseases,
  • and develop new surgical techniques.

Thousands of health professionals, emergency providers, funeral directors, and biomedical device engineers and others receive training and education in Minnesota through the use of anatomical donations.

Donating your body to science is different from donating organs for transplant. 90,000 people are waiting for organs; 100 are added to the list every day, and 17 of them die waiting for organs or tissues. (There are 2,300 people waiting for organs or tissues in Minnesota alone.) Donating organs is always given priority over donating a body, but in many cases it’s possible to be both an organ donor and a body donor. (Check with your specific program to be sure.)

McArthur says,

“We need more people to say yes to donation. Donation saves lives through critical research, education of health professionals, as well as through transplantation. While many people sign up to be donors, at the time of death they may not qualify as donors for transplantation. However, they could still meet donation needs for valuable research and education.”