How Donating Your Body to Science Works

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 

Creative Forms of Body Donation

body worlds
Visitors view a full body human specimen during a "Body Worlds" exhibition, which features real human bodies and organs donated to medical science and preserved using "plastination."
© Vesterinen Viktor/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

Every country that allows whole-body donation has its own rules regulating the practice. Most, if not all, countries that allow the practice use cadavers to train medical students and conduct research into various ailments, such as Alzheimer's disease. But other countries allow other uses for donated bodies. Perhaps one of the following uses for a cadaver, all allowed in the U.S., will be more appealing to you than research or dissection.

  • Crash Testing. Have a need for speed in this life? Your corpse can carry on this predilection if you allow its use in crash testing. Although computer simulations and dummies are also used, nothing compares to a cadaver when simulating what happens to the human body during various types of car crashes. The practice began in the 1930s at Indiana's Wayne State University. Today automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration help fund cadaver testing at various educational institutions [source: Hyde].
  • Forensic studies. It's not always easy for law enforcement or medical experts to determine a corpse's time of death or identify a partially decomposed body. But thanks to The Body Farm run by the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, they're better able to figure such things out. About 1,800 corpses in the UTK Skeletal Collection, where researchers and students come to study bodies in various stages of decay [source: Cohen]. About 4,000 more people are future donors. 
  • Plastination. If you're one of the masses around the globe to have caught a Body Worlds plastination exhibit, the hardened, creatively posed bodies might have captivated you. Intended for health and education purposes, plastination is the process of removing fat and water from bodies and inserting rubber silicone in their stead. Just know that if you sign on as a donor, your body won't necessarily go on tour; some plastinated cadavers end up at medical schools and training programs [source: Cohen].
  • Skeleton-formation. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque operates the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, which is always looking to add to its extensive skeleton collection. No, the skeletons aren't on display; researchers apply to work with them for reasons of physical anthropology and forensics [source: Laboratory of Human Osteology].


Author's Note: How Donating Your Body to Science Works

The minute I got my driver's license at age 16, I signed up to be an organ donor. But after researching and writing this piece, I'm not sure I could take the next step and donate my entire body. I'm not sure why I'm hesitant, but I am.

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