What Is Whole Body Donation?

Whole body donation

Whole body donation is a form of non-transplant anatomical donation made under the Darlene Luther Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Typically, donation authorization is completed prior to death on behalf of the individual. At the time of death or immediately following a funeral, the deceased’s remains are received by the Anatomy Bequest Program and used for educational and research purposes. The donation lasts 2-18 months and the donor’s remains are either cremated or buried after the donation process. More information on the donation process is available on the How to Donate page.

Donation costs

Typically, donation to the Anatomy Bequest Program has no associated costs to the donor's next-of-kin/authorizing person. However, if the donor’s next-of-kin/authorizing person chooses to have a funeral before donation or have the donor’s body buried after donation there will be funeral home expenses associated with the donation. These expenses are the responsibility of the donor’s family or estate.


Frequently asked questions

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Can I be both an organ and a whole body donor?

Yes.  We encourage you to sign up for any donor program that interests you.  At the time of death, we work with other donor organizations and the next of kin/authorizing person to facilitate any and all donations possible.  A list of other donor organizations may be found here: Lions Gift of Sight, LifeSource, American Donor Services

The Program supports transplantable anatomical donation and will accept a decedent as a whole body donor when transplantable eye, organ, and/or tissue procurement has been performed, if all other necessary donation qualifications are met. An endorsement of “donor” on a form of picture identification references such transplantable anatomical donations.

Upon my death, can I donate tissue for specific disease research and still donate my body to your program?

Yes, the Program will accept an individual to the program and help facilitate research donation for internal or external research groups whenever possible.

The best time to bring up this option is prior to the donor's death. It is recommended that individuals interested in supporting specific disease research, contact the Anatomy Bequest Program in order to discuss the options and complete all necessary paperwork.

It is important to note that the Program cannot guarantee research outcomes.

Can I receive a report on the findings pertaining to the studies?

No, at this time this option is not available.  The Program's core mission is to support anatomical education for the University of Minnesota Medical School.  Anatomical education is the foundation of a student's medical knowledge and is the first course they take during their first year of Medical School.  Therefore, the students are not knowledgeable enough at this time to diagnose or recognize diseases and conditions. Rather, they use this knowledge as they go forward in other curriculum courses such as pathology.

The Anatomy Bequest Program does not perform autopsies.

Can the University of Minnesota decline my body even if I have completed donation forms?

Yes.  The Program must reserve the right to decline individuals for a number of reasons.

The following circumstances are the most common reasons for decline:
  • The individual has a disease such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis or a Prion disease
  • The individual is morbidly obese as determined by the Program 
  • There is significant family discord at the time of death or immediately thereafter
  • The condition or pathology of the remains precludes adequate and/or safe preparation, storage or study

If the Program declines to accept the donation at the time of death, it becomes the responsibility of the next of kin/authorizing person to make final arrangements.

How does the Anatomy Bequest Program protect the dignity of the donors?

The Anatomy Bequest Program has instituted a number of safeguards to make sure program donors are handled with dignity and respect.

All access to human donors has to be approved by the Anatomy Bequest Program Proposal Review Committee. The Committee reviews proposals in order to ensure that each proposed study has scientific merit, is consistent with the donor’s consent, and has controls in place to protect the donor’s identity and dignity.

Each anatomy student is required to review a standardized orientation presentation which reviews the Program’s policies. The Program requires all individuals who have access to donors to conduct themselves in accordance with established policies.  The Program prohibits the use of cellular phones in the anatomy laboratories as a way to prevent unauthorized images of the donors from being taken.  The Program also restricts access to the laboratories and only registered students, faculty, or researchers are permitted to have access to the human donors.

The Program, through policy creation, education, and outreach, works to create a culture that protects, values, and honors the individuals who have made anatomical gifts for the benefit of medical education and research.

What if I die outside of Minnesota?

Effective October 1, 2023, Anatomy Bequest Program will no longer accept the body donations of individuals who die outside of the state of Minnesota. 

When a death occurs outside of the state of Minnesota, the donor’s next of kin or authorizing person is responsible for contacting a donation program in the state where the death occurred or making alternate final disposition arrangements.

If you are a part time resident of the state of Minnesota, you may wish to register for whole body donation in more than one state. We encourage you to visit the following website for a list of academic institutions in the United States that have whole body donation programs: https://anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/usprograms/


Why do the studies last as long as 18 months?

The director of the Program understands that they are asking grieving family members for a long period of commitment.  We hope that family members understand that they have the opportunity to have a funeral, with their loved one's remains present, prior to the donation process.  We do not want to delay or postpone the grieving process.

Before a donor's remains can be used to educate health care practitioners, the donor's remains need to be anatomically prepared.  The anatomical preparation process currently recommended requires arterial preservation. After arterial preservation, the donor's remains are isolated for a period of time to better eliminate the possibility of transmitting harmful microorganisms to students, staff, or researchers.

After isolation, the donor's remains are used for study in semester or yearlong courses.  The course assigned depends on the time of year.

How is our program different from others?

We are one of the largest body donation programs in the U.S. and have significantly more staff and resources, as well as oversight, than most.

What protections are in place to ensure donor wishes are respected?

  • Internally, we have strict procedures, as well as checks and balances, to ensure ethical and compliant practices throughout our program.
  • We have a dedicated quality assurance staff member who audits our internal processes on both an assigned and random basis. She also performs vendor audits of our transportation and cremation vendors, which include unannounced site visits and inspections.
  • We regularly undergo external audits and University-level review to ensure that all donor remains are accounted for.
  • We routinely re-evaluate our processes to identify and mitigate any potential weaknesses.
  • We have an Anatomy Bequest Program Proposal Review Committee, which serves as an institutional review committee and must approve all proposals before any study or course can be supported.

Is there federal or state regulation of whole body donation?

At this time there is no federal oversight of whole body donation. The director of our Anatomy Bequest Program, Angela McArthur, has been an outspoken advocate for more state and federal regulatory oversight of non-transplant anatomical donation for 20 years. She is also nationally recognized as a leader in both the ethics and accreditation processes of non-transplant donation.


Medical School

Phone: 612-625-1111 Fax: 612-625-1688

Email: bequest@umn.edu

Address: 3-102 Nils Hasselmo Hall, 312 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455