Commission of Anatomy: FAQs
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- How does a person give their body to an institution for medical education and research?
A person who wishes to make a gift of his or her body to one of the body donation programs in the state should contact in advance one of the programs linked to this site. In general, the prospective donor will need to complete just three forms:
- A certificate bequeathing the body by the individual or next-of-kin (signing must be witnessed by two adults);
- A supplementary information form; and
- An authorization for release of medical information.
School-specific procedures and forms:
- What is a bequeathal?
Bequeathals are where, prior to death, people will their own bodies to a specific school or to the Commission of Anatomy, which will then assign each body to one of the medical schools in the state of North Carolina.
- What is a body donation?
A donation is where a person in charge of a dead body makes a donation of that body to an institution for medical education and research. If it were known that the deceased had wanted to make a bequeathal of their body, but never got around to filing the paperwork during their lifetime, the gift (donation) could be made by their relatives after their death.
- Is there an age limit for bequeathal or body donation?
Potential donors are evaluated on an individual basis, regardless of age.
- Can I be a body donor if I have (or have had) cancer?
People who have or had some forms of cancer can still be body donors. This is evaluated on an individual basis.
- Can a person be an organ/tissue donor and also bequeath or donate their body for research and education?
Generally, medical schools will not accept whole-body bequeathals or donations if the person is an organ donor/tissue donor, with the exception of eye donors. A person can be an eye donor and still donate his or her body, and Fayetteville Technical Community College's Anatomical Bequeathal Program will accept the bodies of organ donors.
- What would prevent my body being accepted?
- You are an organ or tissue donor (except for eye donors. Please see question 6.)
- The body has been autopsied.
- The body has been badly damaged by accident, suicide, or very invasive surgery, making it unsuitable for anatomical study.
- The body has an amputation or major constriction of a limb or limbs.
- The body is extremely obese.
- The body carries pathogens that would pose a health risk to program staff members.
- Will the various anatomical gift programs accept bodies from out of state?
The answer to this depends on the program. Duke's program, for example, makes such decisions on a case-by-case basis.
In general, most programs do not accept out-of-state donations because of the length of time involved in transportation of the body to the accepting facility.
- Can a funeral be held for a donor prior to transportation of the body to the selected facility?
Most programs want a bequeathed or donated body to be transported to their facility as soon as possible. The delay in retaining the body for a funeral can be sufficient to make the body unsuitable for subsequent embalming and use.
- Can a body be embalmed by a local funeral home and then transported to the accepting facility?
No, the type of embalming used when a body is donated for teaching and research is different from that done by a funeral home.
- Do body donors receive the same quality of medical care as non-donors?
Absolutely. Medical care is always based on what is necessary to save a person's life. A person is a candidate for body donation only when they are declared brain dead.
- What happens to my body if no relatives or other persons are available to take charge of it and no plans were made in advance for a bequeathal?
In this case, the body is unclaimed. Under state laws, an unclaimed body comes under the jurisdiction of the Social Service Department of the county in which the death occurred. They, in turn, are required to offer your body to the Commission of Anatomy, which would donate it to one of the medical schools in this state.
- What is brain death?
A person is brain dead when they have suffered irreversible damage leaving them without discernable brain function. Brain death is legal death, and a death certificate is then signed by a physician.
- Is it legal to sell bodies, organs or tissues?
No, this is strictly against the law and is punishable as a felony.
- Can my family go against my wishes to bequeath my body after I die?
No, as long as there is a legal document stating your wishes.
- If I bequeath my body, what is the cost to my family?
For whole body bequeathal or donation, there may be a charge for transportation to deliver the body to the medical school, unless it is clear that the family cannot afford the cost. Embalming and cremation of the remains is paid for by the medical school.
- Are there any racial barriers to body donation?
- Should my survivors contact someone when I die?
Yes, they must contact the medical school program to which the body has been bequeathed or donated, and a funeral service for transportation of the body. The medical school can provide advice about this.
- For what purposes will my body be used?
At each of the medical schools, it will be used to teach human anatomy to medical, dental, or physical therapy students or may be used in the training of residents in surgical specialties. It may also be used for research, as in the study of an anatomical relationship. At Fayetteville Technical Community College, it will be used to teach embalming to the students in the mortuary science program.
- What happens to my body after the studies are completed?
After the students have completed their studies (one to two years after the body has been received), the bodies are individually cremated. The cremated remains are then mailed to the next-of-kin via registered mail or the next of kin may pick up the remains.
- Are bodies treated with respect?
Students and faculty members never lose sight of the fact that each donor wanted to make a contribution to medical education. Each donor is treated with dignity and respect. The laboratories are restricted and only accessible to medical, dental and allied health students, faculty and staff associated with the anatomy program.
At most medical schools, families are invited to an annual memorial service conducted by the students to honor the donors. Students and the faculty are given a chance to express their appreciation and gratitude to the donor families.
- Can I revoke my bequeathal?
You may, at any time, revise or revoke your bequeathal. Completing a bequeathal form does not, in any way, comprise a contract. It is only a statement of your wishes and intentions. You should notify the body donation program, in writing if possible, if you wish to change anything.
- Should I tell my relatives about my gift?
It is a very good idea to inform your relatives of the decision to bequeath your body. It is the general policy of the state's body donation not to accept a donated body if the nearest living relative objects. Next of kin are the legal custodians of a deceased relative's body. You are therefore encouraged to make your bequeathal or desires known to your family, close friends, minister, and attorney. If you have a Will, you should include a statement regarding the donation. However, the best way to have your wishes honored is to carry your donor card at all times and to inform your legal next of kin of your wishes.
- Is the Uniform Donor Card necessary?
No. The body donation programs will accept your body without this card. The card simply serves to alert your family and health care providers that you wish to bequeath your body.