How Donating Your Body to Science Works

Creative Forms of Body Donation

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."
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 donated bodies to be used in additional ways. 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 it to be used 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 650 corpses are lying in a field at the Knoxville "farm," where researchers and students come to study bodies in various stages of decay [source: Cohen].
  • Plastination. If you're one of the masses around the globe to have caught a Body Worlds plastination exhibit, you may have been captivated by these hardened, creatively posed bodies, intended for health education purposes. The fat and water are removed from the bodies and rubber silicone is inserted instead. Just know that if you sign on as a donor, your body won't necessarily be sent 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 the 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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