Honoring death by donating your body to science

i09's Annalee Newitz is donating her body to science when she dies. In a moving and fascinating article, she tells the story of her mother's death, how it led her to make this choice for herself, and what happens to bodies once they find their way into the hands of medical schools and scientists.


  1. for my grandfather, who grew up in rural georgia, it was simply about: “i’m not using it any more, give it to someone who will.”  because that’s the way he was raised.  his body went to emory university last year.

  2. Bwahaha.

    That said, UCSF always cremates the bodies and scatters them to sea when they are finished. The donor’s ashes don’t go back to loved ones. In fact, Corson warned that it’s often a red flag when a group taking body donations promises to return the ashes. Given the nature of the medical procedures, it’s almost impossible to insure that such remains are from a specific person. It’s better to be transparent and promise what is possible: That your donation will help medical students become better doctors, and will eventually be scattered to sea.

    AKA you will be mixed in with a bunch of other people and ultimately cremated/distributed at sea. They don’t keep you in a separate bag :D

    1. I agree, but it still may make sense to donate your body *anyway*, depending on your probability estimates for effectivness of medical research & anti-agathics vs. cryonics.

  3. Mrs. Dragonfrog has discussed donating her remains to art – specifically, having her skeleton mounted for use in drawing or painting classes.

    – Lots of people think to support science or medicine with their body once they’re through with it, but not so many people think of using it to support art.

    – Organ donation is really only viable if you go young and by physical trauma – not through a disease or poisoning that would damage the organs.  Art doesn’t care so much.

    I’m not sure how someone would go about arranging that, is all…

      1.  an excellent point, but if it’s a person’s dying wish, what’s the harm? (so long as the art school wants it in the first place).  hell, they could even give the curation classes [i forget the real name of them] a project out of it too, displaying her in life (through photos, writings, her facebook, art or things she made, career-related) and death.  that would be pretty cool.

        also, a life-sized cast is probably from a skeleton that is as close to average in proportion as could be found, but art hasn’t really been focusing on any adonis-like ideals lately.  How To Draw Comics The Marvel way will show you idealized proportions (and there’s a copy in my home, best believe!) but the models in figure drawing classes at my school were a grossly fat lady and me, skinny as hell 6’3″/150.  It teaches you to draw what you SEE, not what you were trained the standard human proportions are.

        I’ve got my organ donor thing on my ID and I’ll probably donate myself to Emory or Clark if I get terminally ill or old aged.  But if Mrs. Dragonfrog’s idea was an actual thing, I’d definitely consider it.  Not really sure an art school would *want* it, though.

    1. There are medical illustration/art classes that use cadavers, offered at some medical schools.  It may be easier to partner with one of these then find a stand alone art institute with access to cadavers.

  4. If you’re interested I highly recommend Mary Roach’s book Stiff, which goes into great detail about bodies and what science and others do with them.

  5. I highly recommend “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach. It’s a touching, hilarious, and hugely informative book about what happens to bodies after they’ve been donated to science.  You know, if you’re interested. I really enjoyed it.

  6. I sent my mom to the UH School of Medicine almost three years ago. Exactly a year later, I found myself in a gross anatomy lab six thousand miles away troubleshooting AV equipment amongst the big steel tables. It should have bothered me, but it really just didn’t. That really surprised me.

    Protip 1: The spring loaded jaw of the plastic skeleton makes for a very convenient place to park a hot soldering iron.

    Protip 2: Don’t look in the cardboard drum next to each table. Just don’t.

  7. Donate your body for training purposes so someone else can get charged hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the knowledge gained be used to save their life.

    I’m not saying don’t do it. It just feels strange.

    1. You’re right. We should just stop practicing medicine altogether. It’s the only way to be sure.

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