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Questions and Answers

Why should I donate my body to science?

You give many gifts in your lifetime, but there is one that will make a significant and lasting contribution, the gift of donating your body to medical science through the Virginia Department of Health's State Anatomical Program.

Donation is a gift of education to the many hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health professionals studying in Virginia 's medical schools, colleges and universities who must learn how the human body is constructed before treating living patients. No models, films or books can substitute for the actual study of the human body itself.

Donation is also a gift of discovery and knowledge to the many researchers in Virginia studying new ways to prevent illness, treat diseases and develop innovative surgical techniques.

Donation is a gift of improved health and extended lives for our families, friends and the citizens of Virginia .

What is the State Anatomical Program?

The State Anatomical Program, established in 1919, is the only agency in Virginia authorized to receive donations of human bodies for scientific study. Its purpose is to provide human remains for teaching anatomy and surgery and for medical research in the State's medical schools, colleges, universities and research facilities.

May I donate organs or tissues and still donate my body to the State Anatomical Program?

Only a body that is intact is suitable for scientific research under the State Anatomical Program. Therefore, a body from which individual organs or tissues have been removed for transplant, except the corneas or eyes , cannot be used.

What bodies cannot be accepted by the State Anatomical Program?

The State Anatomical Program may decline donation of a body previously pledged for donation that is not suitable for medical study. It cannot accept a body that is autopsied or embalmed; has extensive burns, trauma or surgical incisions that have not healed; is extremely obese or emaciated; is in the beginning stages of decomposition; has or is suspected of having a contagious and communicable disease including, AIDS, hepatitis, active tuberculosis or Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease; or has an antibiotic resistant infection. In the event a body cannot be accepted, the family should have alternate plans available for disposition.

Is there an age limit?

The State Anatomical Gift Act, §32.1, Chapter 8, Article 2 of the Code of Virginia , allows anyone 18 years of age or older to donate his or her body to the program.

May my body be donated at death if prior donation has not been authorized?

Donation may be made after death by having the person who is responsible for the disposition of the body complete an after-death donor form. In the absence of any indication to the contrary, donation at death may be made by the following people in priority relationship:

  • an adult appointed by a person to make arrangements for disposition of the person's remains;
  • spouse;
  • either parent;
  • adult son or daughter;
  • adult brother or sister; or
  • legal guardian of the decedent at the time of death .

A body may be donated at death if the State Anatomical Program determines it is suitable for use.

The State Anatomical Program has the right to refuse a body for donation upon viewing it for the first time.

Will I be paid for donating my body to science?

The State Anatomical Program does not buy bodies, nor do other states or medical schools in the United States . However, donation may relieve the family of some burial and associated expenses.

Will my family have to pay for transportation of the body?

The State Anatomical Program will pay a funeral home a designated fee for transporting the body in Virginia to a state facility for collection. Any additional fees charged by funeral homes or transport services for this service may be assessed to the family.

Suppose I die outside of Virginia ?

If you die outside of Virginia , there are three options:

1. The body may be offered to the anatomical program at a nearby medical school that needs bodies, or

2. The family may assume the expense of returning the unembalmed body to Virginia, at which time the State Anatomical Program will take possession of the remains, or

3. The family may revoke donation by notifying the State Anatomical Program, and contact a funeral home of their choice and arrange for burial.

Who should be notified of my death?

Donors should notify the following individuals and organizations about their intent to donate: those designated to make final disposition; next of kin; and the relevant personal physician, hospital or nursing home. Upon your death, the physician, nursing supervisor, hospital or relative should contact the State Anatomical Program at (804) 786-2479.

If death occurs during normal working hours, 8:15 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, the State Anatomical Program will give instructions. Should death occur at a hospital after hours or on a weekend, the hospital should hold the remains in its facility and leave a message on the voicemail of the State Anatomical Program and notify the State Anatomical Program the next working day to make arrangements for removal. If death occurs at a nursing home or a residence, the nursing home and/or a relative should contact the closest funeral home and request the remains be taken to the closest hospital with a holding facility. The State Anatomical Program will pay a designated amount for transportation costs.

What happens after the body is no longer needed in a medical program?

The disposition of the body is arranged by the school and the remains are either buried or cremated and cremains scattered in a respectful manner. You may inquire with the Anatomical Program regarding donor request for return of cremains. The bodies received are used strictly for the purpose of medical education in the instruction of anatomy and science. There are no autopsies performed and no pathological reports prepared.

How would my family obtain a death certificate?

After the attending physician signs the death certificate and returns it to the State Anatomical Program to be filed. The certificate is filed with the local health department in the locality where death occurred. Certified copies of the death certificate can be requested from the local health department or from the Virginia Department of Health, Division of Vital Records, Richmond , Va. , (804) 225-5000.

May my family have a funeral for me?

The State Anatomical Program assumes custody of the body, so a funeral service with the body present is not possible. However, the family may have a memorial service conducted at any time.

What about a death notice in the newspaper?

The family is responsible for the placement and cost of an obituary notice. The newspaper will confirm the death with the State Anatomical Program prior to publication.

How do I donate my body?

You may donate your body by completing a donor form, available upon request from the State Anatomical Program. You may also download the Declaration of Intent form. Send an original to the State Anatomical Program, and give copies to a relative, physician, pastor, friend or any person who is aware that you wish to be a donor. Be sure that a copy of the donor form is accessible because any delay could disqualify a body for donation.

Declaration of Intent Form

If I change my mind can I cancel my donation?

Your donation may be canceled at any time, in writing, to the State Anatomical Program. Also notify your relatives that you have canceled your donation.

Every Virginian has the opportunity to make a valuable and generous gift to the living - the gift of his or her body after death for study and research in medical science.

For further information, call or write to:

State Anatomical Program:
Virginia Department of Health
400 East Jackson Street
Richmond , Virginia 23219
(804) 786-2479
(800) 447-1706


Last Updated: 01-10-2012

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