Body donation

Body donation

If you are interested in donating your body to medical science, you should contact your local medical school – contact details can be found on the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) website.

How to donate your body

Human bodies are used to teach students about the structure of the body and how it works; they may also be used to train surgeons and other healthcare professionals. People decide in advance to donate their body after their death. These donations are highly valued by staff and students at anatomy establishments.

A donated body can be used for a number of possible purposes:

  • anatomical examination – the teaching of the structure and function of the human body to students or healthcare professionals
  • research – scientific studies that improve the understanding of the human body
  • education and training – the training of healthcare professionals, usually those learning surgical techniques, as opposed to anatomical examination

The role of the HTA in body donation

The HTA licenses and inspects establishments, such as medical schools, that use donated bodies. The HTA provides general information on body donation but does not provide detailed information on behalf of each medical school, such as body donation acceptance criteria or opening times. This kind of information can only be obtained directly from the medical school.

How to donate your body for anatomical examination

Under the Human Tissue Act 2004, written and witnessed consent for anatomical examination must be given prior to death; consent cannot be given by anyone else after your death. A consent form can be obtained from your nearest medical school and a copy should be kept with your Will. You should also inform your family, close friends and GP that you wish to donate your body.

Medical schools that accept donated bodies will normally only accept donations from within their local area due to the transport costs involved. Offers of body donation from outside the area may be accepted on the condition that the donor's estate bears the cost of transporting the body. Full details can be obtained directly from the Bequeathal Secretary at your nearest medical school.

Several medical schools are also involved in research requiring donated bodies. Your nearest school will be able to advise you on this.

Questions about body donation

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Although the new law affecting body donation (the Human Tissue Act 2004) came into force on 1 September 2006, it allows documented and valid consent for body donation made under the old law to be honoured. To avoid any unnecessary confusion or delays after you die, it is recommended that you include an updated intention to donate your body in your Will. More details can be obtained directly from the anatomy establishment to which you wish to donate your body.

Not necessarily. A form completed for one anatomy establishment might also be acceptable to another. More details can be obtained directly from the anatomy establishment to which you wish to donate your body. If you have moved to a new area of the country, but still want to donate your body to the anatomy establishment linked to your old postcode, please contact the establishment for more details. Some medical schools may request that your estate contributes to the cost of transporting your body if the donation falls outside of the medical school’s local area.

People who choose to donate their body or organs do so in the hope that they will be useful to others after their death. Despite being separate donation systems, it is possible for a person to be registered as an organ donor and to have registered their wish to donate their body, after death, to a medical school.

Medical schools will usually decline a body donation if the person has undergone surgery to remove organs for transplantation. However, if after their death, the person is found unsuitable to be an organ donor, then body donation to a medical school can be taken forward by the relatives, solicitor or executor of the Will.

If a person wishes to register for both organ donation and body donation, the HTA suggests that the person includes this in their Will and ensures that those closest to them are aware of their wishes. For more information on organ donation please visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website.

All medical schools welcome the offer of a donation. However, certain medical conditions may lead to the offer being declined. These conditions and any other reasons for a body donation being declined can be obtained from each medical school.

If a medical school is unable to accept your donation, they may be able to help you find another school that can accept your body. However, if no medical school is able to accept your offer, your estate will need to make suitable funeral arrangements.

Medical schools will usually arrange for donated bodies to be cremated, unless the family requests the return of the body for a private burial or cremation. Medical schools may hold a memorial service. Further information can be obtained directly from the medical school.

You will not receive any payment for donating your body. Some medical schools may request that the donor’s estate contribute to the cost of transporting the body, particularly if the donation falls outside of the medical school’s local area. Full details can be obtained directly from the medical school.

Donating your brain

Diseases of the brain are increasingly common in the UK due to an ageing population suffering from conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. There are no known cures for many of these diseases, so high priority is given to research seeking to understand them better – potentially leading to new treatments. Scientists study human tissue to improve their understanding of how diseases start and progress, and what keeps us healthy. Research such as this often leads to different ways of diagnosing disease and can help develop new treatments. To ensure research is thorough, it is also extremely important to have access to brain tissue from deceased people who did not have diseases. This is known as control tissue and it is crucial that scientists have access to this so that they can compare it directly with tissue from a person with a disease. These valuable donations are essential for developing new and better treatments for people with diseases and in the search for a cure. Brain donation has helped with the discovery and treatment of diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The role of the HTA in brain donation

The HTA licences organisations that store human tissue, including brains, for research. The HTA believes that good regulation supports good science, which in turn improves healthcare. The HTA ensures that tissue is removed and stored in an appropriate and well-managed way. It’s regulation ensures that the public and researchers can have confidence that the wishes of individual patients and their families are respected. Medical research needs the best quality tissue to work on, and the HTA's regulation helps ensure it is stored to high standards.

How to donate your brain for research

The attached human tissue banks accept brain and spinal tissue for research. As well as needing particular types of tissue from people with the conditions named, they also accept donations of brain and spinal tissue from people without these conditions as controls to the research.

The school to the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire area:

University of Nottingham
School of Biomedical Sciences
Medical School
Queens Medical Centre
Contact: Alison Bexon
Phone: 0115 823 0143

Last updated on 01 November 2023