About Organ Donation
Organ donation is the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (the organ donor) and placing it into another person (the recipient). Transplantation is necessary when the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury. Organ transplantation is one of the great advances in modern medicine. Unfortunately, the need for organ donors is much greater than the number of people who actually designate themselves as organ donors.
According to organdonor.gov, up to 8 lives can be saved by 1 organ donor. In addition, tissue donation can dramatically enhance the quality of life for many individuals. Organdonor.gov estimates that more than 28,000 transplants were made possible last year through organ donors and that another 1,000,000 people received cornea transplants and other tissue transplants that helped them recover from trauma, bone damage, spinal injuries, burns, hearing impairment and vision loss. However, there are thousands of people who still die every year waiting for organ donations that never come.
The legal right for an individual to choose organ donation is governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. It is recommended that any person wishing to donate their organs register as a donor in advance to eliminate any possible confusion or delay at the time of death (see below for details on organ donor registry through One Legacy). The choice to be an organ donor should also be included in an advance directive.
About Whole Body Donation
Whole body donations are used for medical research and education. These donations can be made to medical schools or private organizations that distribute the bodies to institutions to be used in their research or for teaching purposes. Most organizations will return the body after the research has been completed and will cover the cost of cremation or burial of the body.
Most organizations do not disclose to the family the type of research that was conducted on the body or how the body was of benefit to the advancement of medicine and/or science. However, Life Legacy, a non-profit, whole body donation organization who sends a summary packet outlining the benefits of the loved one's gift to the family after the research has been completed. Similarly, Science Care, a for-profit company sends the family a follow-up letter one month after donation, outlining the medical research and education projects their loved ones participated in and the unique benefits of healthcare.
If knowing how your body will be used in advance of your death is important to you, you may want to consider the Body Farm, a forensic anthropology research center at the University of Tennessee. Research conducted at the Body Farm involves the study of natural decomposition. This type of research is aimed at determining the age, sex, ancestry, and stature of a deceased individual as well as determining the time since death and the manner of death. The Body Farm also retains all skeletal remains for inclusion in their Bass Donated Skeletal Collection. This type of research directly benefits law enforcement.
If this option is appealing to you, we have included information about the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center (UTFAC) Body Farm in our comparison table. UTFAC is a leader in forensic anthropology and was the first lab of its type to be established in the United States in 1982.
The legal right for an individual to choose body donation is also governed by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. It is recommended that any person wishing to donate their body to make advanced arrangements with the organization they choose to donate their body to and include the information in an advance directive.
Body Donation Opportunities:
When considering donating your organs/tissues for transplant, or your body for medical/forensic research and education, there are five options in the Southern California area we have researched and endorse. A high-level summary of each of the options is provided below. In addition, we have included a comparison table of the organizations we have researched to assist you with your research.
Life Legacy - A non-profit organization based in Arizona that is able to receive bodies from throughout the US and benefits research institutions around the world. Cremated remains are returned to the family.
One Legacy - A non-profit organization associated with the DMV “pink dot” on your driver’s license enabling organ/tissue donation to people awaiting transplants. The body is then returned to the family for burial/cremation.
Register through Facebook: Recently, Facebook announced that FB users can now use their Facebook accounts to register as organ donors. Here is how it works:
Go to your account and click on Life Event
Click on Health & Wellness
Click on Organ Donor and then enter whatever information you want about being a
Science Care - A for-profit organization headquartered in Arizona with a facility in Long Beach, CA. Science Care receives bodies from throughout the US (except New Jersey and Minnesota) for the purpose of medical research, training and professional education nationwide. Cremated remains are returned to the family within 3-5 weeks. Donors who have participated in organ donation may also still be eligible to donate the whole body for medical research.
The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine - The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA Donated Body Program provides human cadavers for scientific anatomical studies essential to teaching and research for UCLA and its affiliates.
The University relies on the support and generosity of the community for help in fulfilling its academic, research and healthcare mission. The University recognizes the value and importance of these donations and is committed to ensuring that they are treated with care and the utmost respect.
Donated human remains are integral to a wide range of educational, research and clinical pursuits, including anatomy instruction and neurological, anatomical and physiological research, and pathological examination, to name a few.
UCLA School of Medicine only accepts bodies from the Southern California area (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura County residents only) for purposes of local medical research and education. The body/cremated remains are not returned to the family. (Though this program won't work for you unless you move to one of the counties listed above, tell a family member or friend who lives in one of the counties about the program if you like.)
The University of Southern California (USC) Anatomical Gift Program - In all of medical science, there is no greater direct source of knowledge than the human body. Through the study of anatomy, students at USC’s School of Medicine, School of Dentistry and Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy learn the fundamentals of body structures, how they function and how they relate to each other. The knowledge of anatomy provides the foundation for all their future training. The importance of this knowledge base is confirmed by surveys of recent medical school graduates who uniformly describe their anatomy classes as the most valuable to them in their practice and research. Many current lifesaving medical practices and surgical techniques have their genesis using human bodies which were donated through anatomical gift programs operating at medical schools and hospitals throughout the country. The faculty, students and staff at USC are deeply aware of the value of this gift and understand that each donor and their family has made a tremendous sacrifice so that other future generations can live long and healthy lives.
The University’s Anatomical Gift Program is administered under the guidelines established by the State of California. Individuals who are interested in becoming donors to this program are required to complete three forms to formalize this process: the donation form, signed by the donor and witnessed by two individuals, a vital statistics form, and a brief medical history form. At your request, a representative of USC will furnish you with detailed information about the program and your eligibility for participation.
Stanford Medicine - Willed Whole Body Donation Program - Once you register to become a donor to the Willed (Whole) Body Program, Stanford’s Division of Clinical Anatomy will keep your name and contact information on file. Upon your death, a caregiver or family member must contact us right away (within 24 hours of death). We take calls 24 hours/day, every day of the year. We will arrange for a funeral home to transport your body to Stanford Medical School, where it may be used to teach students about the structure of the human body, and for the purpose of conducting medical research.
Immediately following the study of the body, we will arrange for cremation. (The study period may range from one month to two years, but it is typically about a year in duration.) At the time of donation, your family will be asked to specify whether they wish for the cremated remains to be returned or whether they would like us to arrange for interment. Our faculty, students, and staff are very grateful for the kindness our donors have extended, and bodies are treated with the greatest respect while in our care.
The University of California at Davis (UCD) School of Medicine - UC Davis established its Body Donation Program in 1968 to create a philanthropic opportunity for donors to assist the medical school with the appropriate quality and quantity of anatomical materials necessary for the medical school curriculum.
UC Davis receives donations from the Northern California community. Donations are unsolicited and donors hear of the program mainly through word of mouth. Many donors are Alumni of UC Davis, relatives or friends of students or Alumni, have University of California (UC) affiliated Physicians or are familiar with the research and academic reputations of the Medical Center and University. To date, the program has received approximately 3,000 donors. Currently, there are approximately 8,000 living people in the community registered as donors.
The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine - The Willed Body Program is one of many UCSF programs that is committed to excellence in research and education. The study of human anatomy has long been and continues to be an essential element in the training of physicians, dentists, physical therapists and other health science professionals.
In considering donating your body to medical education and research, know that the need is great and that your gift will be valued and honored. Your donation will play a critical role in assisting medical students to master the complex anatomy of the human body and will provide researchers with the essential tools to help our patients of tomorrow.
University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center (UTFAC) - A research center within the University of Tennessee that accepts bodies from the Southern California area for purposes of forensic anthropology research. Bodies are not cremated since the emphasis of research involves skeletal studies. The skeletal remains are not returned to the family because they are used for research indefinitely. However, visitations of the remains can be arranged.
Most of the above organizations listed the following criteria apply:
The deceased must have been 18 years or older.
The deceased must have had no communicable diseases (UTFAC will accept
unpulverized cremated remains of individuals with communicable diseases).
The body must weigh less than 250 lbs, except for Science Care, which accepts up to
300 lbs., and UTFAC, which has no weight limit.
The body must not have any decomposition or trauma, except for UTFAC which
allows organ donation prior to donation.
The body must be donated within 24 hours after death except for Science Care who
can still proceed with a donation if the process is started up to 48-72 hours after the
time of passing as long as the donor is under refrigeration.
The body must not have undergone an autopsy . Except for Science Care which will
consider an autopsy alongside other medical criteria to determine eligibility for
Before agreeing to participate with any program shown above, be sure to confirm whether or not there are any out-of-pocket expenses for your estate or next-of-kin to pay or not, including, but not limited to transportation costs due to the distance from their location.
Be sure to contact the organization directly of your choice to confirm your potential acceptance into their program.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: This book provides an informative and entertaining history of the use of cadavers in research, including a chapter on Mary's visit to the Tennessee Body Farm.