What Is Whole Body Donation?

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Whole body donation

Whole body donation is a form of non-transplant anatomical donation made under the Darlene Luther Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Typically, donation authorization is completed prior to death on behalf of the individual. At the time of death or immediately following a funeral, the deceased’s remains are received by the Anatomy Bequest Program and used for educational and research purposes. The donation lasts 2-18 months and the donor’s remains are either cremated or buried after the donation process. More information on the donation process is available on the How to Donate page.

Donation criteria

In order for the University of Minnesota Anatomy Bequest Program to accept a donation, a fully executed donation authorization consent form has to be received by the Program. 

The Anatomy Bequest Program accepts the donations of individuals who are 18 years old or older. There is not an upper age limit for whole body donation. 

Individuals have to be considered legally competent at the time they complete the consent form. In the case of next-of-kin donations or donations made by other authorized persons, the University of Minnesota does not typically accept the donation of individuals who were mentally incompetent due to cognitive disabilities or mental illness. The University of Minnesota considers all donations made by next-of-kin or authorizing persons on an individual basis. 

Under the terms of the Darlene Luther Minnesota Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the Anatomy Bequest Program has the right to accept or decline a donation dependent upon the needs of the Anatomy Bequest Program and the medical and/or social history of the decedent at the time of death.

While the Anatomy Bequest Program reserves the right to decline whole body donation, the following circumstances are the most common reasons for decline:

  • The individual has a disease such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or a Prion disease
  • The individual is morbidly obese as determined by the Anatomy Bequest Program 
  • There is significant family discord at the time of death or immediately thereafter
  • The condition or pathology of the remains precludes adequate and/or safe preparation, storage or study

If the Anatomy Bequest Program declines to accept the donation at the time of death, it becomes the responsibility of the next of kin/authorizing person to make final arrangements.

Donation costs

Typically donation to the Anatomy Bequest Program has no associated costs to the donor's next-of-kin/authorizing person as long as the donor’s death occurs within Minnesota. However, if the donor’s next-of-kin/authorizing person chooses to have a funeral prior to donation, have the donor’s body buried after donation, or are donating from a state other than Minnesota, there will be funeral home expenses associated with the donation. These expenses are the responsibility of the donor’s family or estate.

Frequently asked questions

What if I die outside of Minnesota?

What if I die outside of Minnesota?

If a death occurs outside of Minnesota, donation to the Anatomy Bequest Program may be possible, depending on the anatomical gift laws in the state of death and the needs of the Anatomy Bequest Program.

When a death occurs outside of Minnesota, the donor's estate, next of kin, or authorizing person is responsible for the transportation and paperwork costs associated with bringing the donor's body from the place of death to the University of Minnesota.  These arrangements must be made with a funeral home.

Can I be both an organ and a whole body donor?

Can I be both an organ and a whole body donor?

Yes.  We encourage you to sign up for any donor program that interests you.  At the time of death, we work with other donor organizations and the next of kin/authorizing person to facilitate any and all donations possible.  A list of other donor organizations may be found here.

Can the University of Minnesota decline my body even if I have completed donation forms?

Can the University of Minnesota decline my body even if I have completed donation forms?

Yes.  The University of Minnesota - Anatomy Bequest Program must reserve the right to decline individuals for a number of reasons.

What happens if the University of Minnesota declines my donation?

What happens if the University of Minnesota declines my donation?

If the University of Minnesota declines the donation of an individual, it is the donor's estate, next of kin, or authorizing person's responsibility to make final arrangements.

Why do the studies last as long as 18 months?

Why do the studies last as long as 18 months?

The directors of the Anatomy Bequest Program understand that they are asking grieving family members for a long period of commitment.  We hope that family members understand that they have the opportunity to have a funeral, with their loved one's remains present, prior to the donation process.  We do not want to delay or postpone the grieving process.

Before a donor's remains can be used to educate health care practitioners, the donor's remains need to be anatomically prepared.  The anatomical preparation process currently recommended requires arterial preservation. After arterial preservation, the donor's remains are isolated for a period of time to better eliminate the possibility of transmitting harmful microorganisms to students, staff, or researchers.

After isolation, the donor's remains are used for study in semester or yearlong courses.  The course assigned depends on the time of year.

Why are there no reports on the findings pertaining to the studies?

Why are there no reports on the findings pertaining to the studies?

The Anatomy Bequest Program's core mission is to support anatomical education for the University of Minnesota Medical School.  Anatomical education is the foundation of a student's medical knowledge and is the first course they take during their first year of Medical School.  Therefore, the students are not knowledgeable enough at this time to diagnose or recognize diseases and conditions.  Rather, they use this knowledge as they go forward in other curriculum courses such as pathology.

How does the Anatomy Bequest Program protect the dignity of the donors?

How does the Anatomy Bequest Program protect the dignity of the donors?

We've instituted a number of safeguards to make sure bodies are handled with appropriate respect.  The Anatomy Bequest Program Proposal Review Committee evaluates requests for all uses of human bodies and staff members regularly participate in and monitor all studies.  An additional committee consisting of a medical doctor, former assistant dean, departmental head, bioethicist, anatomy professor, and a donor family member provide counsel and review the Proposal Review Committee policies.  State law prohibits selling bodies or body parts, and the University has a number of oversight controls in place to make sure that we comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

Upon my death, can I donate tissue for specific disease research and still donate my body to your program?

Upon my death, can I donate tissue for specific disease research and still donate my body to your program?

Yes, the Anatomy Bequest Program will accept an individual to the program and help facilitate research donation for internal or external research groups whenever possible.

The best time to bring up this option is prior to the donor's death. It is recommended that individuals interested in supporting specific disease research, contact the Anatomy Bequest Program in order to discuss the options and complete all necessary paperwork.

It is important to note that the Anatomy Bequest Program cannot guarantee research outcomes.