Deciding what to do with your body in the afterlife is no easy decision. One option is to donate your body to science. This is an option chosen by many people who want to have an impact on the world long after they have left it. There are multiple ways that one can donate. In fact, it is even possible to participate in long and short-term experiments while living in order to help researchers with their projects.
Once your body is donated there are many places that it could end up. Medical schools will utilize cadavers for teaching, training, and scientific research. Generally, the body is either embalmed or frozen so that it is preserved. Once preserved, the body can be used for an infinite number of projects over the course of about two years. As a sign of respect the body is often left to be anonymous and the face is covered with a sheet. Depending on where the body ends up, funeral costs are often covered and your loved ones can sometimes visit.
Sometimes, unfortunately, bodies donated to science end up in the wrong place. Body brokers are often used because they help to cover transportation costs. However, there is a slight possibility that a body broker will sell your body parts to various places rather than donating it to science. In this case you could end up being blown up by the army as part of landmine tests or sold at a very high mark up. What else happens when you donate your body to science?
15. You Become Anonymous
When medical students are using cadavers that have been donated, they do not know the name or background of the person. All of the paperwork is pretty vague and uses numbers and names of body parts to denote the deceased. Along with generic titles, a list of facts like allergies, illnesses, and other information about the body is provided. Sometimes, the family can meet the medical student who studied their deceased loved one after the body has been cremated. At the University of Cambridge, students can meet the family at a memorial service at the end of the year. It is only then that the students get to know the background and real name of the body they have researched all year. However, this is usually not the case with most who donate their body to science, since it often produces an emotional reaction from everyone involved.
14. You Will Be Tested For Diseases
Not all bodies that get donated get used. Just because someone thinks that they would be a great candidate to study does not mean they are. Even if the living body passes all the tests, there is still a chance the deceased body will not. For most body donation companies, there is a rigorous screening process that all cadavers must pass in order to be considered a deceased donor. The body is first tested for all communicable diseases. If it tests positive for things like HIV, hepatitis, or syphilis, it usually cannot be used. For some companies, a very small percentage make the cut due to strict standards. This is because more often than not, most bodies do not die in their prime. Depending on what the company’s needs are, things like weight gain, muscle deterioration, or traumatic injuries can all affect whether or not the subject can be used.
13. Your Funeral Costs Could Be Covered
Beside altruistic reasons, one compelling reason that a lot of people donate their body to science is so that their funeral costs can be covered. Unfortunately, the burials, cremations, and other ceremonies can put a large financial burden on the family of the deceased. One solution is to donate to a medical university so that they may take care of all of that. Not all schools offer it, but some do offer simple ceremonies. The funerals are not anything extravagant but they do take care of everything that needs to be done. At the King’s College London, a quick ten-minute service with a chaplain is offered but it is not personalized. The family does, however, get a chance to meet the student who worked on their deceased loved one’s cadaver in order to provide a little bit of closure. They are also given the chance to collect the ashes after the service, if they choose.
12. You May Not Know Where You Go
One method of donation is through the use of a body broker. Some people prefer this route because the brokers will generally cover all costs involved in donation. This includes transportation of the body to the facility and the cremation. There are several businesses in the United States that provide this service. Anatomy Gifts Registry and BioGift Anatomical are two of them. The main downside to this service is that the parts of the body could go to different places. There is no guarantee what types of projects the cadaver will be used for. Unfortunately, this also means that there is a chance that the body ends up in places the person would not want it to have gone. Some brokers do offer the option for someone to try to place limits on where their parts go, but there is not always a formal assurance when using a body broker.
11. You Could Be A Crash Test Dummy
One use for bodies that have been donated for research is to use them as crash test dummies. The bodies are either put in the crash test or used to help design more human-like crash test dummies. Biomedical engineering students at Wayne University use cadavers to perform various crash tests. The hope is to prevent the most common injuries like those to the head and feet that can be disabling to a person and cause a lot of suffering when a crash occurs. The real bodies are needed because it is hard to create a head-on a crash test dummy like that of a real person. The cadavers help to accurately demonstrate what happened to the human head in a crash. The use of a real body over a crash test dummy helps car manufacturers add safety features in the car that can potentially save the lives of others.
10. You Could Be Frozen
Immediately upon donation, some bodies are sealed into a large plastic bag and then put into a freezer. The freezing of the body helps to preserve it and keep it as life-like as possible. Freezing is sometimes better because when the body is embalmed, the tissue becomes hardened and less like that of the body of someone living. This makes the subject less optimal for certain medical students to use the body for training and teaching. Surgeons in training prefer a body that has been frozen because it feels less like operating on a cadaver than that of a body that has been embalmed. The main drawback to freezing is that the body as a whole does not last as long if it is frozen and not embalmed but some parts that are frozen can be kept indefinitely. This allows them to be used for training and teaching in addition to scientific research.
9. You May Be Embalmed
Not all bodies can be donated to scientific research. One of the major limits that prohibits some donations is a weight limit requirement. This is because there is a chance that the body will get embalmed. Sometimes the embalming process can add anywhere from 100 to 150 pounds to the body’s mass. Bodies that are too heavy can be extremely difficult for students and technicians to move. A body that is too heavy will not even be able to fit on the storage trays that are used. The embalming process involves the injection of a fluid that disinfects and moisturizes the tissues. This is the same process that is done in funeral homes even if the body is not donated to science. The main difference is that instead of prepping the body for a funeral, the embalming is done to help aid with any dissection that will occur.
8. You Could Be Plastinated
Some donated cadavers may become famous and end up in a museum. The Body Worlds exhibit is a traveling exhibition that educates the public on the inner workings of the human body. The main goal is to encourage people to live healthy lives by showing them the effects that various lifestyle choices have on the body. The exhibits involved displays of real human cadavers that have been plastinated. Plastination is the process where fluids are drawn out of a dissected part of the body and replaced with plastic. This allows the body to be preserved for an almost endless amount of time. For the models used in the exhibit, the technicians remove all fat and water, infuse the body with a rubber silicone, and then place it in a frozen position ready for display. Medical schools will plastinate a cadaver so that the model can be used almost indefinitely for teaching and training,
7. You Could Be Sent To A Body Farm
Believe it or not, but there are places where bodies that are donated are sent to simply rot away. A body farm is a facility where the decomposition of cadavers can be studied in varying settings. Researchers will place bodies above and below ground and let them naturally decay. They were invented in 1972 by an anthropologist named William Bass. The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville has a body farm where cadavers are exposed to different conditions so that students may observe how the body rots away. This is done in order to help law enforcement fight crime. By knowing how the body reacts to the passing of time and being left to face varying environmental conditions, forensic researchers can help police with their investigation. They can determine things like time of death or what injuries the person may have suffered. This, in turn, can help with the solving of murders.
6. Your Skeleton Could Just Be Used
If someone wants just their skeleton to be used, some labs will accept just the unembalmed bones of a person for free. However, this is often not the most desirable option family has to pay for the transportation cost of getting the body to the facility. Some skeletons with interesting deformities can be donated to certain facilities to be put on display in a museum. The University of New Mexico’s Laboratory of Human Osteology will take the body and separate the skeletal elements. Within ten days, those parts are rendered, dried, and then stored in an archival container. The rest of the body is then cremated and disposed of. Unfortunately, the family cannot retrieve the remains. The skeletons are not put on display but faculty members or students can apply to use the skeletons for non-destructive research projects. When the skeleton is not in use, the family of the deceased can even come visit it.
5. Your Face Will Be Covered During Research
In order to maintain anonymity, most medical schools will cover up the face and private parts of the body they are working on. Unless the research requires those parts to be tested, a thick opaque sheet will be laid over those areas. This also helps the medical students with the initial queasiness they may experience the first time they operate on a cadaver. To help add extra ease for the students, a major university in California has the phrase “This person is not here anymore. They are safe and you are safe” printed on a sheet. At Wayne State University in Detroit, their subject is used in impact tolerance testing in order to design crash test dummies. All of the bodies have their heads covered during testing as a sign of respect for the donor. Some other schools host memorial services or blessing ceremonies in an effort to show respect.
4. You Could Be Sold On The Black Market
There is a small chance that a body donated to science may accidentally or intentionally end up on the black market. In the United States, this industry is generally unregulated. While many of the donation centers are altruistic and ensure the bodies are taken to the right facilities, sometimes there are a few bad eggs looking to make a quick buck. The University of California Irvine faced a scandal when one of the directors of the program was caught selling skeletons. In 2015, the Biological Resource Center of Illinois was under investigation by the FBI for multiple allegations of fraud and other crimes. Among the charges were selling body parts infected with diseases like HIV and hepatitis to unknowing doctors and researchers, lying to families about how and where their loved one’s deceased body would be used, and sometimes taking bodies that were not meant to be donated.
3. You Could Be Enlisted
There is the possibility of being enlisted in the afterlife. The United States military uses donated bodies to test explosive devices. In 2002 Tulane University’s willed body program made headlines for accidentally selling seven cadavers to the Army. The University often receives too many donations for their needs so they sell the remaining bodies through a third party service. They thought that they were being sold to medical schools. The service sold the bodies for a high markup between $25,000- $30,000. The bodies were then used in a landmine experiment at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to test protective footwear. This raised a lot of ethical questions as to whether this qualified as the type of research that the deceased intended their body to be used for. Defendants of the landmine tests argue that they are important to help improve protective gear and determine safe standoff distances.
2. You Could Be Studied For Two Years
A body that is donated to a medical school can be studied an infinite amount of times for about two years, or sometimes longer. Medical schools can opt to embalm, plastinate, or freeze the body in order to preserve it. To help with preservation, the rooms at the school utilize giant snorkel vents in order to control room temperature and circulate the air. The cadaver is then used multiple times for various teaching, training, and scientific research. Once an organ that was removed for testing or teaching is no longer in use, it is placed back in the body and available to be used again. If muscle or bones need to be exposed, the skin is carefully cut so that it creates a flap that can be opened and closed. This allows the students to utilize each cadaver to its maximum potential. Each one generally will get used for at least two years.
1. You Could Still Be Alive
There are also options where you can donate your body to science while you are still living. Through short term and long term experiments, it is possible to donate your body to science while you are still alive. Many researchers have experiments that require human volunteers. Some will even pay for you to participate in the project. Often times it just involved being in a healthy state and performing a simple task. Most of these are psychological experiments that involve the answering of questions. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies need live volunteers to help to test new drugs before they hit the market. This is often a long-term test and can come with the danger of experiencing nasty side effects but have a higher compensation. Longer term experiments like those to study sleep and other human experiences can all be conducted while you are alive. Blood and bodily tissues can also be donated to scientific research.
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