Exactly How Does the Body-Donation Process Work?
There's no one set process for body donation, since each organization that takes such donations has its own set of rules. However, the process generally works something like this: First, you need to figure out where you want your body to go — a particular university-affiliated medical school (the most common option), a private organization, or a government agency? You'll need to fill out a donor consent form ahead of time. Make sure your family knows of your decision, and that it's written into your will. It's also possible for your family to make the decision to donate your body at the time of your death [sources: US-Funerals, Miller].
Once you die, your chosen institution will determine if it will accept your body. There is no guarantee it will. While factors like age and ethnicity don't matter, donors with HIV 1 or 2, an AIDS-related death, Hepatitis B or C, syphilis, kidney failure or jaundice, a severe bacterial or viral infection resulting in isolation and extensive trauma are generally declined. Corpses topping 300 pounds (136 kilograms) are typically turned away as well [sources: US-Funerals, Aleccia]. Because your body may be declined, make sure you've made alternate arrangements. You don't want your loved ones suddenly stranded with a dead body on their hands.
If your body is accepted by your chosen institution, that group typically covers all associated costs, including transportation, filing of the death certificate, cremation after use and the return of cremated remains [source: Science Care]. Some groups do require that you arrange to deliver the body to them, especially if it's in another state.
What happens once your body is in a particular institution's hands depends on where you donated your body, and what that group's mission is. But most places will not let you donate your body for a specific purpose — they want to be able to use your body as needed. Medical facilities generally require your body to come with all of its organs, meaning you can't donate your body and also be an organ donor. Other groups, such as Science Care, do allow both organ donation and whole-body donation [sources: Miller, Science Care].
When the group is finished with your body, the leftovers are cremated and returned to your family. No family is ever paid for a body donation; that's illegal [source: Miller].