How to Save Money By Donating Your Body to Science

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Maybe you've donated clothes or even a car to charity. But would you donate your body to science?

There are few things in this world that are guaranteed, but death is one of them.  I unexpectedly lost my brother-in-law in January to a massive stroke.  His final expenses topped $12,500 between the funeral home and the cemetery.

Obviously, this is a sensitive time to attempt to save money. But for both your peace of mind and for your family’s piece of your estate, you need to plan ahead. As Stacy Johnson talks about in Buried in Debt, most people wait until the last minute to deal with this uncomfortable topic.

But what if you’re looking to defray some of your final expenses and help someone out in the process? Then donate your body to science.

It’s called “whole-body donation,” and it’s vital for medical training facilities and disease research. And there’s probably a place near you that will take your body off your hands. The University of Florida even maintains a database listed by state. Body Donation Programs in the United States provides addresses and phone numbers. And there are private organizations like BioGift and Science Care.

For example, near me is the University of Tennessee Anatomical Bequest Program, which accepts donated bodies for use in medical research, anatomy lessons, and surgical practice – as well as criminal forensics research in the school’s Body Farm, an idea that has been copied by other schools and featured on those TV procedural police dramas.

There’s no cost to the family for donating a loved one’s remains, unless the body must be moved from out of state.  Generally, the body will be cremated and returned to the family once the research is complete. But before you decide on whether whole-body donation is right for you, consider the following…

  1. If you are an organ donor you won’t qualify for most programs. For example, the University of Tennessee requires that you donate your body in its entirety (hence the term “whole-body”). So if you qualify for organ donation, you don’t qualify for this particular kind of medical research.
  2. You can’t decide how your body will be used.  You and your relatives can’t choose to have your body used for dissection in an anatomy class or for disease research in a medical lab. You can’t even designate whether your body will be used in its entirety for one study – which means part of you might be used in one place, and part of you in another.
  3. Your family won’t get updates. Once your body is donated, your relatives won’t receive any information regarding the outcome of the studies conducted on you.
  4. Funeral services or other memorial service expenses aren’t covered.  While the University of Tennessee and many other programs will allow your family to conduct any final services they wish before taking custody of your body, they won’t pay for it.
  5. You may not qualify for the anatomical bequest program.  If your body has been badly damaged (say, in an accident) or you were morbidly obese, you won’t be eligible to donate your remains.
  6. You won’t be paid to donate.  Federal law prohibits buying bodies.

So those are the warnings. Here are the two big advantages…

You’re literally saving lives. Science Care offers a list of medical advancements that came from research on bodies. It includes treatments for everything from diabetes to deafness.

You’re saving money. Like many programs, the University of Tennessee will cremate your body after the studies have been completed (usually in 18 months) and either inter you in a local cemetery or return your ashes to your family, free of charge (minus any transportation costs).

Best of all, just as with traditional funeral services, participation in these programs can be prearranged by simply completing a couple of forms.  And you can change your mind at any time by simply revoking your authorization in writing.

If you’re dying to know more, contact a facility near you or one of the national private companies.

Stacy Johnson

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