What Is Whole Body Donation?

COVID-19

After a hiatus, the Anatomy Bequest Program will be accepting body donations of registered individuals in a limited capacity beginning June 10, 2020.

The Anatomy Bequest Program has a duty to protect the health and safety of staff, researchers, faculty, and learners by screening potential donors for several serious communicable diseases including COVID-19.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anatomy Bequest Program will not be able to accept the donation of individuals who meet any of the following conditions within 28 days of their death:

  • Diagnosis of COVID-19 infection (including probable, suspected, and confirmed cases)
  • Diagnosis of pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza (flu), or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)
  • Diagnosis of sepsis or septic shock
  • Exposure to COVID-19 (having been exposed to a person with COVID-19 who either visited, worked, provided healthcare for, or lived with the potential donor while they were contagious)
  • Travel by air carrier

In addition to COVID-19 related restrictions, the Anatomy Bequest Program is accepting donations on a limited basis to adjust to the needs of our stakeholder community.  It is likely that the need for body donors within the University of Minnesota system, and within external research and academic institutions, will be evolving over the course of this pandemic. The Anatomy Bequest Program’s ability to return to normal donation capacity is based on these needs and several other factors, including the timeline and eventual end of this outbreak. For current restrictions, please contact us by telephone at 612-625-1111 or email at bequest@umn.edu.

The decisions behind these changes were difficult to make. The Anatomy Bequest Program team appreciates that our donors often plan to donate to science and education years in advance of their deaths. In order to assist our community, a member of our team will be available to advise those impacted by these changes in how to make alternative funeral arrangements. The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota is a resource aiding in researching and creating funeral and/or final arrangement plans, which can be reached at info@fcaofmn.org and fcaofmn.org.

We thank you for your support and patience during this time and hope that all of you will remain healthy and safe.

Updated: 06/10/2020

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