A lot of people think donating a body is a way to avoid any burial expense.

While in some cases donation may significantly reduce final costs, there are still costs that will have to be paid for by the family.

In addition, depending on the condition of the body or presence of disease at the time of death, a donor body may be rejected, requiring the family to bear the entire expense of a funeral and/or cremation and internment.

Donation Process

It’s important to know the process of body donation. In Wisconsin it is usually through the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Medicine and Public Health program.

The University of Wisconsin Body Donation Program
(similar programs may vary in your state or area).

Wisconsin state law provides that a person, while living, may pre-arrange to donate his or her body to a medical school, provided that such gift is for educational purposes. Most bodies donated are used to instruct medical students in human anatomy, and for providing training in specific clinical procedures.

Bodies donated to the UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health are NOT used for research, but are used for anatomical and teaching purposes only. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act requires that donated bodies be a gift to the recipient institution.

Who Can Donate?

A Body Donation Form is available that when properly executed becomes a legal document. Donors in Wisconsin must be at least 15-1/2 years old or an emancipated minor. A donor may revoke the gift at any time by simply notifying the Body Donation Program and destroying the donation form.

Even if a person is pre-registered and accepted, the cause of death may prohibit the donation from taking place. Therefore, it is important to have a backup plan in place with advance funeral planning.

What Donors Will Not Qualify?

For example, bodies will not be accepted that have been mutilated (e.g. in an accident), that have unhealed major surgery prior to death or that have been autopsied, or from which major organs have been removed or donated (with the exception of the eyes).

Other conditions that may be refused include obesity, malnutrition or emaciation, excessive edema, hepatitis, jaundice, HIV/AIDS, or infectious diseases that might put the recipients of the body at risk.

The decision whether to accept or refuse a body is made at the time of death by the University of Wisconsin Mortician, and not at the time the donor signs the registration form.

Costs Related to Body Donation

Donating a body is not necessarily a cost-free option, either. For example, there may be costs incurred for a funeral home to remove a body from the place of death and to hold it until the medical school removal team arrives.

In Wisconsin, the UW Body Donor Program will only accept bodies that have died in Wisconsin. Bodies will be accepted from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, or UP Michigan, but the family must assume all funeral home expenses and the costs of transporting the body to Wisconsin.

Program morticians will not remove a body from private residences and most nursing homes, so a local funeral home must be employed to remove the body and hold it until the UW Mortician arrives. The UW program will however make direct removals if death occurs at a hospital facility which has a morgue.

In most cases, the costs of transporting the donated body from a Wisconsin funeral home or morgue facility to the medical school are covered by the UW Body Donation Program. In cases of severe weather or where morticians are already transporting a body to Madison, it may be necessary for the body to be held by a local funeral home until the UW mortician can arrive. Those costs are the responsibility of the family.

What Happens After Donation?

Once the medical school has completed study of a body, the remains are cremated and the ashes are returned to a family member, if pre-designated on the Body Donation Form.

Normally a body study may take from one to three years. Ashes not pre-requested for return to a specified individual cannot be returned. Ashes not returned are buried on University of Wisconsin property in an unmarked grave. The University does not maintain grave sites.

Families may arrange to hold funeral services before the UW program receives the body. This should be coordinated between the family, the funeral home, and the UW Body Donation Program. Any funeral or funeral home expenses are the responsibility of the family. The Body Donor Program must be notified prior to any embalming.

Each year the students who have studied and learned from the donors conduct a memorial service to recognize the gift of the donor. If possible, the family representative specified on the donation form will be notified by mail about this memorial service.

What Happens at Time Of Death?

At the time of death, the next-of-kin or caretaker of the pre-registered donor should notify the Body Donor Program as soon as possible by telephone. The time factor is extremely important. In most cases depending on the deceased’s condition and cause of death the UW Mortician will be able to determine at this time whether the body will be accepted.

If the deceased has died at home or in most nursing homes, a local funeral home will need to be called to remove and to hold the body at the family’s expense until the UW Mortician arrives. If the death occurs at a hospital facility that has a morgue, the UW Mortician should be able to pick up the body from the morgue.

When the UW Mortician arrives, he or she will make the final determination as to whether the body will be accepted for donation. If the condition of the body or cause of death lead to the body being refused, the family will need to proceed with other arrangements for cremation or burial.

For more information or donation forms:
University of Wisconsin Body Donation Program
Contact: Body Donor Coordinator – (608) 262-2888 (M-F; 8am-4:30pm)
Body Donation Program – 1135 Medical Sciences Center – 1300 University Avenue – Madison WI 53706 – https://bdp.wisc.edu

Remember, even if you have pre-registered as a body donor, your body may not be accepted for donation at the time of death due to trauma, recent surgery, presence of disease, organ donation, or obesity. Donors and their families should have an alternate plan and funding in place to provide for burial or cremation in the event that a donor body is refused post-death.

A qualified Advance Funeral Planner can help you sort through the available options and to set up a funeral funding plan. For more information on body donation and your funeral pre-planning options, contact Epilogue Planning Professionals at (715) 571-4160.

Jamie Allar
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