Donating your body to science

We have recently helped a family whose loved one left their body to science. It was an interesting journey.

Our family was pre-registered with the University of Bristol. You must pre-register because only the person who has died can donate their own body so if you think it is a cheaper way of getting rid of the mother-in-law, sadly it doesn’t work quite like that!

Our deceased passed at home so our only real involvement was bringing the body into care and looking after it until it was then collected by the Universities dedicated removal team. Our total invoice to the family came to £130. That is the only fee they have to pay however when they register the death each copy of the death certificate costs £11.50 (at the time of writing this article).

Behind the scenes however lots of things must happen before the body is accepted.

This is what the procedure is for the University of Bristol

After a potential donor’s death, the Bequest Office will contact your general practice or hospital doctors to find out your background medical history and cause of death. This a necessary part of the donation process to determine if your body will be suitable for donation. If a bequest is accepted, in certain circumstances we may request copies of your medical records or medical images. This information would be used to further assist in Anatomical Teaching or Research.

Circumstances where a donation may be declined by the University of Bristol

Regrettably it is not always possible to accept all body donations offered. There are certain medical conditions or circumstances at the time of the death which can make the body unsuitable for anatomical examination or research purposes.

These preclusion criteria are in place to safeguard their staff and students, to allow for study of the normal structure of the body, and to ensure that a body accepted is suitable for preservation processes.

The University may be unable to accept donations when their mortuary is at capacity, and when the Bequest Office is closed, for example during major public holidays, such as Easter or Christmas and New Year.

If the donation cannot be accepted the next of kin or executor will be informed as soon as possible so they may make funeral arrangements. No guarantee can be given that a bequest will be accepted.

The following is a list of circumstances or conditions which will result in the donation being turned down:

  1. Post mortem examination or coroner’s inquest
  2. Transmissible disease: for example, Hepatitis, HIV, Septicaemia, Clostridium, MRSA, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  3. Dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Mixed aetiology dementias or dementia of an unknown cause (vascular dementia is acceptable)
  4. Jaundice
  5. Organs donated for transplantation (cornea donation is acceptable)
  6. Chemotherapy treatment within three months prior to death
  7. Internal bleeding or severe circulatory problems
  8. Aged under 18 years: There is no upper age limit to acceptance. However, we are unable to accept donors under 18 years of age
  9. Seven days or more have passed since death, or transport cannot be arranged within seven days. A decision for acceptance will need to be made soon after death, to allow time for transport arrangements to be made.

The following is a list of conditions or circumstances that might affect a donation:

  1. Cancer: Depending on type, severity and spread of the cancer
  2. Severe bedsores or varicose ulcers or broken skin: Small sores may be acceptable
  3. Peripheral vascular disease and peripheral oedema
  4. Recent operations where the wound has not healed
  5. Previous multiple operations: This is dependent on the number and type of previous operations, and the ability to study normal anatomy
  6. Amputation of more than one limb
  7. Severe deformity of joints and spine, or limb contractures
  8. Obesity/Size: Excessive weight or height
  9. Multiple Sclerosis
  10. Operational Considerations: At times the Bequest Office may be closed due to the mortuary being at capacity, or for maintenance of essential equipment.

If the death occurs in the community, such as the person’s own home, a nursing home or a hospice without mortuary facilities, the deceased should be removed to a local Chapel of Rest by an undertaker. It is important for the relatives to understand that the transport and cost of the undertaker must be borne by the donor’s estate or the next-of-kin/executor.

If the death occurs in a hospital (or hospice with mortuary facilities) the body will be held in the mortuary. Please inform the hospital bereavement team of the potential donor’s wish to donate their body.

Make an appointment with the local Registrar. Once the medical cause of death has been issued by the doctor, next of kin or executors will need to make an appointment to register the death with the local Registrar.

If the donation is accepted, the next of kin or executors will be asked to complete and return some paperwork to the Bequest Office.

How a decision is made regarding acceptance at the University of Bristol

Once notified of a death, the Bequest Office will contact the relevant healthcare services/professionals, typically the GP, hospital, hospice and nursing home staff, to discuss the cause of death and other relevant background medical and surgical history. This is a necessary part of the bequest process and will determine whether the donation can be accepted. Next of kin and executors will then be informed of the decision.

In some circumstances when Bristol Bequest Office is closed, a person’s body donation can be accepted with another licensed medical school or anatomy department.

Instructions for next of kin or executors if a donation is accepted

  1. The Bequest Office will arrange transport of the body to the University through their funeral directors. Next-of-kin or family do not usually need to make these arrangements. At the time of acceptance, the Bequest Office will send the next of kin/executors the following documents to complete and return. The receipt of these documents is a condition of acceptance of the donation. If they do not receive these documents within 14 days of registration of the death, they will be required to decline the bequest.
  2. Register the death with the Registrar and inform them of the wishes of the deceased. The registrar will issue you with a green certificate (Certificate of Burial or Cremation) and a death certificate.
  3. You will be sent Cremation 1 (Application for Cremation form) and the form ‘Instructions for the disposal of a donated body’. This paperwork will allow a cremation service to take place. Next of kin or executors can confirm whether they wish to be informed of the time of cremation, attend the cremation or take possession of the ashes. The Bequest Office will arrange the cremation based on the information provided on this form.
  4. Return the following forms to the Bequest Office:  Copy or photocopy of the death certificate, Original copy of the green disposal certificate  Completed Cremation 1 (Application for cremation form) form,  completed ‘Instructions for the disposal of a donated body’ form Expenses The initial costs of moving and storing a person’s body to a local undertaker will need to be paid by the deceased’s estate or their next-of-kin.

Providing a person’s bequest is accepted, all reasonable costs relating to the onward transportation of the body to the School of Anatomy and the subsequent final cremation will be borne by the University of Bristol.

Thanksgiving Event

An interdenominational Thanksgiving Event is held annually, to which the next of kin or executors of those who bequeathed their bodies are invited. This provides an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks to those that have donated their bodies, together with members of the University staff and students. Further details may be obtained from the Bequest Office.

Arranging cremation and taking possession of ashes

At the time a donation is accepted your next of kin or executor will be asked to confirm if they wish to be informed of the time of cremation, attend the cremation, or take possession of the ashes. When the University has completed their examinations, they will contact your next of kin or executor based on their wishes. Cremation services are individual to the donor and held at a local Bristol crematorium.

Although the consent form may allow them to keep a body for several years, in certain circumstances, the body may be used, and a cremation arranged within a month of arrival. We endeavour to use all donor bodies as fully as possible.

Please be reassured that if a cremation service is arranged shortly after the acceptance of a donor, it does not mean that the donation has any less value.

When ashes are ready for collection, they can be collected either directly from the crematorium or from a Bristol based funeral director.

Alternatively, if next of kin/executors do not wish to take possession of the ashes, we will arrange for the ashes to be scattered in the gardens of rest within the crematorium grounds.

It is the responsibility of the next of kin or executor to advise the Bequest Office of any changes in contact details. If all reasonable attempts have been made to contact the next of kin or executor, the Bequest Office will arrange a non-attendance cremation service and/or scattering of the ashes.

If the donation is not accepted

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a donation will be accepted to the School of Anatomy. If the donation is not accepted, we advise the next of kin or executors to proceed with normal arrangements for burial or cremation. It is regretted that the University cannot make any financial contribution to these private funeral arrangements.

Frequently Asked Questions regarding donating your body to science:

Is it necessary to sign a form if I’ve left my body in my will?

Although it may be possible to accept a person’s body donation through a will, the wording can cause problems in understanding your wishes and may make acceptance difficult.

It is advised that you also sign a consent form and return a copy to the Bequest Office to make your wishes clear.

I have a rare medical condition. Can I donate my body, to research my condition?

The School of Anatomy does not undertake research into specific disorders and cannot accept donations to research into a specific medical condition or disorder. If you wish to leave your body or body tissues for research into your specific medical condition, you could discuss this with your specialist medical team (consultant or specialist nurse) or a research organisation.

Can I register as an organ donor and register for body donation?

Yes, you can be registered with both services, however, they are unable to accept a body donation if a person donates their organs (other than corneas) at the time of their death.

Can I donate my brain and body to separate services?

The University can usually accept if a person also donated their brain to a separate service.

Does the University make a profit from the use of my body donation?

They do not make a profit from the use of any body donors.

We hope this information helps you if you are considering this path or if a relative of yours has intimated that they would like to explore this. Prior planning is vital and sharing your views with your family and loved ones may help you achieve your wishes.

If we can help you expolre this option, please do get in touch with us