We invited Tamara Ostervoss, Director of the Body Donation Program at Oregon Health & Science University, to provide more information about this method of final disposition and how it can be compatible with family and community-led after-death care.
Whole-body donation is an alternative to a traditional funeral and burial or cremation. Donating your body or your loved one’s body to a reputable body donation program supports medical education and research after death. Many people considering this option are unsure of how to plan or what the process may look like.
Donating one’s body is a personal decision and there are many different reasons for doing so. Not every body donation program is the same, has the same requirements, or provides the same options for the final disposition of a donor’s body afterward. That’s why it is important to find a program that best fits your personal beliefs and needs.
There are two different types of body donation programs, academic and private. Academic body donation programs are typically affiliated with a university, and are guided by their home university’s missions as well as their ethical requirements. Most academic programs are focused on the education of doctors or other health professionals as well as medical research within their geographical region. Private body donation programs determine their own mission, vision, values and are not associated with a university.
To determine which program is a good fit for your needs, it is important to consider asking the following questions of body donation programs:
OHSU’s Body Donation Program is the oldest in Oregon. Every year, the program’s donors support the education and training of approximately 300 OHSU medical, dental, physician assistant and radiation therapy students, as well as 200 OHSU residents and clinicians, and 2,000 students at other trusted Oregon academic institutions that follow OHSU’s strict medical and ethical standards. Students who learn through OHSU’s program are required to attend an orientation, understand their responsibilities when working with donors, and only learn from donors in approved lab spaces with restricted access. Donors who support our program will be a part of education at OHSU for 1-3 years before undergoing final disposition.
Students are honored to care for the donors who serve as their 'first patients.' Every year, our learners host a memorial service with donors’ loved ones where they reflect on how their donor’s decision impacted their education.
If you are interested in OHSU’s program, please complete and submit a consent form and share your intent to donate with your loved ones. When discussing your wishes with loved ones, it is important to provide information about what to do at the time of death as well as a backup plan in case donation is not possible. The OHSU Body Donation Program accepts donations only from individuals who are 18 years and older. The Body Donation Program can accept or decline a donation at the time of death. The most common reasons, but not all, for decline are recent or unhealed surgeries, autopsy, communicable disease, physical condition of the decedent such as extensive trauma, or low or high body weight. If a donation must be declined at the time of death, the next of kin or an authorizing agent is responsible for making an alternate arrangement for final disposition.
We accommodate a variety of different funeral practices and customs. Because some requests require advanced planning and we want to best serve each individual donor’s needs, we always recommend that people who are interested in donation to reach out sooner rather than later. We do not require individuals to work with funeral homes, but can and do work with families who choose to do so. Our program requires donors to be transferred into our care within 48 hours of death. We have a contracted transportation team and will cover transportation expenses up to $300, with the next of kin being responsible for any additional transportation expenses beyond that. With notice, our transportation facility may be able to accommodate donors transported by family to their facility.
The gift of whole-body donation far surpasses the initial donation. Students use the knowledge and skills they gain from body donors for the rest of their careers, and they become better health care providers and medical researchers as a result.
For more information, please go to the OHSU Body Donation Program website. Questions can also be directed to email@example.com.