Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

Body Donation: What Really Happens


Not long ago, a couple came in to pre-arrange their funeral. The conversation we had was not what they had expected.

During our visit, frustration was apparent. It instantly became clear that what is involved with donating a body to science, is not as straight-forward as one might think. This blog is meant to clarify exactly what takes place and what to expect, when a person elects to donate their body to science.

First and foremost, let’s not confuse “Body Donation” with “Organ Donation/Harvesting.” They are two entirely different scenarios and protocols.

Organ Donation

• Organ donation is what the Secretary of State asks a person when they renew their driver’s license. If they say “yes” it is noted on the back of their driver’s license should they die in an accident emergency responders would know the protocols of how to preserve the body until the harvesting the organs can be done.

• When an individual dies and there was no indication or discussion about organ donation, a company called “Gift of Life” will call the family and ask them if they would consider this as an option.

• Once the organs are harvested, the family arranges for the deceased’s body to be returned to their funeral home of choice for the necessary arrangements and next steps.

• Organs or body parts that are donated can be bought. Presently there are minimal restrictions in place.

Body Donations operated under completely different premises.

When an individual donates their body to science, the intention is that the deceased’s body will be sent to a teaching university, hospital, or mortuary school. Individuals request this for the final care of their human body tend to elect this for one of two reasons. The first being altruistic. They want others to learn and benefit so they can help others. The second reason usually revolves around finances. There is a large misconception that there are no costs associated with body donation.

Here's where the confusion about price begins. Yes, it is true that there may be no fees incurred from the receiving university for the intake of the body, or for the actual cremation of the body itself. What people don’t take into consideration are three very important items.

1. A funeral home must be involved.

2. Associated costs incurred.

3. Your body could be rejected!

Jodi M. Clock's YouTube vlog recently went in depth on this subject. Her podcast “I Woke Up Dead…Now What?” can be followed on Amazon Music and most podcast stations.

Let’s address the “why’s” behind these three unavoidable factors when a person chooses to donate their body to science.

Why is a funeral home necessary?

• Transportation. When a person dies, they will have to be transported from the place where death occurred, to the funeral home, then ultimately to the teaching facility who will benefit from the body donation. (Note: some states, not many, will allow the general public to transport a deceased legally. Texas is one of them. Bottom line, know the state’s rules and don’t assume. Each state has their own set of rules.)

• In the majority of states, there are laws that require a funeral home or specified approved forensic/medical agent to transport the deceased. This is for many reasons, including health and safety, along with providing dignity and respect for the deceased. Therefore, an employee or transport/care team acting under the supervision of a licensed funeral home can legally transport.

• Often there is a time delay between death and delivery to the accepting teaching facility. Funeral homes are licensed and equipped to store the deceased respectfully until the teaching facility has given the green light of acceptance.

• Death Certificates. Unless the medical examiner issues a death certificate, the funeral home will be responsible for generating the death certificate.

• Burial Transit Permit. This permit is generated from the funeral home and the health department, documenting death has occurred, allowing for burial or cremation to take place. This permit is also necessary when crossing state lines, along with being given to the cemetery when a deceased is buried.

Why are costs incurred? Costs are incurred for 3 primary reasons.

• Transportation. As mentioned above, a care team of professionals need to be on call to bring the deceased into the funeral home’s care.

• Professional Services. In order for the care to be able to transport, they need to be under the supervision of a licensed funeral home. There are costs associated with a funeral home such as employee wages, vehicles, equipment, body storage and insurance, to name a few.

• Death Certificates and Permits. A licensed funeral director must sign the death certificate and the funeral home must generate a burial transit permit. Between the funeral director’s time and the county’s charges for the certificates and permits there is an affiliated cost.

How can a person’s body be rejected for donation?

Sounds strange right? One would think that a body, regardless of the condition would be suitable for teaching. This is not the case. There are many variables that can negatively impact a deceased body from being donated.

Here is a brief list.

• How death occurred.

• How long a person was deceased before they were discovered?

• If they are morbidly obese, septic, or have an infectious disease at the time of death.

• The teaching facility is full and not accepting donations when death occurred.

It’s always best to have a back-up plan. When considering body donation, one should think to have a “Plan B” just in case. Often people will elect to have an immediate cremation when a donation does not work out.

What happens to a donated body after the teaching facility is finished with it? When the teaching facility has completed their procedures, what remains of the deceased is cremated and mailed via United States Postal Service to the next of kin. Each place has a different timeline for returning, however the average length of time is six months.

In closing – body donation is a wonderful gift. How else can doctors, surgeons, funeral directors, dentists, and other specialists learn? Like anything else, the devil is in the details and when considering this, always have a back up plan.

Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

I hope you find these informative articles useful. Please follow my podcast “I Woke Up Dead…Now What?” Streaming on most podcast stations.

Muskegon, Muskegon County's online magazine

Jodi M. Clock is an international speaker and expert on how to help families have a difficult conversation with their loved ones about legacy planning. Having personally witnessed the financial confusion that families endure, especially at an emotionally taxing time, Ms. Clock has centered her career on helping people to understand the options that are available to them. She currently writes and speaks about the basics of Medicaid and asset protection, how to avoid family feuds, end-of-life directives and is a seasoned expert in on pet trusts, as well as their final care. Since 1988 Jodi has worked in the "end-of-life planning" industry including family and corporately owned funeral homes, advance funeral planning companies, casket manufacturers and now practices what she preaches at Clock Funeral Home and Clock Timeless Pets with her husband Dale.

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Muskegon is locally owned and produced. Gary Scott Beatty, editor and publisher. Contents and design © Copyright Gary Scott Beatty, 1509 Princeton Rd., Muskegon, Michigan 49441.

Muskegon is an educational and informational service to help you make informed decisions. The content, tools and services of Muskegon are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Privacy.