What Is Whole Body Donation?


In light of the current Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, the Anatomy Bequest Program staff will be reducing operations and placing a temporary pause on accepting whole body donations effective Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 8 AM until at least April 7, 2020. The Anatomy Bequest Program will continue to monitor the situation and provide regular updates during this period.

This is an unprecedented situation in our nation. This decision was made in order to comply with the University of Minnesota's recent extended reduced operations plan, which mandates employees to work remotely when possible in order to slow the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm our medical system. This decision also allows the Anatomy Bequest Program to offer our inventory of personal protective equipment to healthcare providers caring for patients infected with the COVID-19 virus.

A portion of the Anatomy Bequest Program team will still report to work as needed to ensure the respectful and appropriate preservation, storage, tracking, and final disposition of the Anatomy Bequest Program donors currently with us. Other members of our team will be performing administrative functions and will be able available to answer your questions and process requests for donation information.

We are aware of the impact this may have on the community, as we know that people who decide to pre-register to become a whole body donor often make the decision years in advance of their death. In the event that our program has to decline a donation, a member of the Anatomy Bequest Program staff will be available to advise impacted family members on how to make alternative funeral arrangements.

We hope this outbreak will be short-lived. In the meantime, we hope that all of you will remain healthy and safe. Thank you for understanding and grace during this time.

Updated: 03/25/2020

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 criteria

In order for the University of Minnesota Anatomy Bequest Program to accept a donation, a fully executed donation authorization consent form has to be received by the Program. 

The Anatomy Bequest Program accepts the donations of individuals who are 18 years old or older. There is not an upper age limit for whole body donation. 

Individuals have to be considered legally competent at the time they complete the consent form. In the case of next-of-kin donations or donations made by other authorized persons, the University of Minnesota does not typically accept the donation of individuals who were mentally incompetent due to cognitive disabilities or mental illness. The University of Minnesota considers all donations made by next-of-kin or authorizing persons on an individual basis. 

Under the terms of the Darlene Luther Minnesota Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the Anatomy Bequest Program has the right to accept or decline a donation dependent upon the needs of the Anatomy Bequest Program and the medical and/or social history of the decedent at the time of death.

While the Anatomy Bequest Program reserves the right to decline whole body donation, 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 weighs more than 250 pounds at the time of death 
  • 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 Anatomy Bequest 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.

Donation costs

Typically donation to the Anatomy Bequest Program has no associated costs to the donor's next-of-kin/authorizing person as long as the donor’s death occurs within Minnesota. However, if the donor’s next-of-kin/authorizing person chooses to have a funeral prior to donation, have the donor’s body buried after donation, or are donating from a state other than Minnesota, 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

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.

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?

If a death occurs outside of Minnesota, donation to the Program may be possible, depending on the anatomical gift laws in the state of death and the needs of the Program.

When a death occurs outside of Minnesota, the donor's estate, next of kin, or authorizing person is responsible for the transportation and paperwork costs associated with bringing the donor's body from the place of death to the University of Minnesota.  These arrangements must be made with a funeral home.

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.

Contact Anatomy Bequest Program

3-102 Nils Hasselmo Hall
312 Church Street SE Minneapolis, MN 55455-0215

Office: 612-625-1111 | Fax: 612-625-1688
Email: bequest@umn.edu