How to Will Your Body to Science

Patient Expert

As we go through life with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we inform and educate those around us about this condition. Sometimes it’s as personal and quick as a brief explanation of what RA is. At other times, it’s participating in formal advocacy programs, training medical students during a rheumatology rotation, speaking to lawmakers, and more. We do this to create change in how the world views and treats RA and other forms of chronic illness.

There are a few additional ways you can help build knowledge about RA. One way is to donate your body (or parts of it) to science after you die. Brad Carlson, who used to write for RAHealthCentral, wrote about his desire to donate his body to science in order to leave a legacy and “lessen the load on someone in the future.”

Different programs, different options

There are a number of programs available if you’re thinking of bequeathing your body.

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA), adopted by all 50 states, allows individuals to donate their bodies to medical schools without permission from the next of kin, along with other policies that aim to streamline the entire process.

While working within the scope of the UAGA, the institutions that invite donations have created their own procedures. Although you don’t need permission from your next of kin, we recommend that you talk to your loved ones about your wishes for what happens after you die. It can make their period of grief a little easier.

Dependent upon where you live, each state has different requirements in terms of paperwork, including the time it takes to process a donation. However, at the University of South Carolina, a “walk through” donation process is in place to expedite the process, as may be the case for someone who is in hospice and suddenly decides that they would like to will their body to science.

Costs may be incurred in bequeathing your body. This is another reason you may wish to talk to your loved ones about the arrangements you make, as they may be involved in making it happen. For instance, the University of Kansas Medical School advises that the cost of transportation of the body is not covered by the university. Other universities, including Columbia University, cover all the costs. The cost of cremation and interment is usually covered by the university.

After a period of one to three years for study purposes, the final disposition of the body varies. It is often determined by the institution, with some offering more leeway than others. For example, UC San Diego scatters the cremains at sea, while other universities offer more choice in terms of final resting spots. If you have a specific request, be sure to address this when you make your decision.

One of the questions you may have is how your body will be treated. Medical schools take this ultimate gift very seriously, usually restricting access to teaching labs to the students, faculty, and staff who are authorized to be there.

Most institutions have a once-a-year ceremony, often taking place in the autumn, for families, friends, and students to gather and mark the gift of knowledge that comes from a bequeathed body.

For example, the medical students at the University of Arizona attend a ceremony each year where one tree is planted to express gratitude to the donors’ families. In California, the Science Care Memory in Nature™ program works in conjunction with the National Forest Foundation’s Trees for US program by planting a tree in honor of every donor in the Lassen National Forest.

The University of Hawaii pays tribute to the “Silent Teachers” in a ceremony that is reflective of the culture of the area.

How do I find a willed-body program in my state?

The Anatomical Board of the State of Florida has posted a comprehensive list of available donor programs throughout the U.S.

In life or death, may the transitions you experience be filled with empathy, tenderness, and honor.

See more helpful articles:

Organ Donation: Is an RA Patient Allowed to Donate?

RA Awareness: Be Patient with Your Friends, Educate, Don't Hate

Beautiful Soul: A Tribute to Brad Carlson