The expression “donating your body to science” might sound like a line out of a movie, or a joke you might say as an afterthought. The truth is actually a lot different than that.
Donating your body to science is different from donating your organs for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re contributing to a lot of vital research and education that wouldn’t be possible without real bodies.
It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but body donations are happening every day, all over the world. You can donate your body to science by signing up with an accredited organization like MedCure or Science Care. They partner with medical organizations, schools, hospitals, forensics and any organization that does research to improve something related to the human body.
But where exactly could your body end up if you decided to sign up with one of these organizations? Here are some possibilities.
1. The forensics farm. The University of Tennessee has the most famous body farm in the world (although there are plenty more all around the country).
The university’s Forensic Anthropology Center has been studying the way bodies decompose under a number of circumstances for decades. This helps detectives be more accurate when determining the cause and time of the death of a person.
2. Join the world’s largest skeleton collection. The same university has a skeleton collection made up of 1,000 individual specimens.
These are used by researchers from “varying academic and medico-legal institutions,” according to the university. Students can gain access to this collection and visit by sending out a form that specifies the nature of their research.
3. Car crash test dummy. There’s only so much plastic dummies can tell us about how an accident can affect the human body. That’s where a dead body comes in to fill the gaps.
Companies like Ford have used real bodies in order to perfect things like their inflatable rear seatbelts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration works with research institutes to make sure they get these much-needed real-life dummies.
4. The army. It’s no secret that the army is 10 years ahead of us when it comes to their gear and technology. And just like with car crashes, there’s only so much plastic dummies can tell us about how to improve the safety of that technology.
For example, in 1999, researchers used bodies to test minesweeping footwear and see how much damage a soldier would receive if a mine got detonated.
5. Medical devices tester. It’s not just medical students who get to learn about the body by practicing on cadavers. Bodies play an important role in how medical science advances.
New medical instruments, procedures, and different ways to treat conditions that reduce healing time—these are just some of the things that researchers can find using a cadaver.
6. A museum exhibition. You’ve probably been to a museum that displays real bodies and skeletons behind glass cases. Well, those were people who donated their bodies to science!
Bodies that make it to a museum are preserved through a process called plastination. Basically, the blood and water in the body get replaced by certain types of plastic, stopping the process of decay.
7. Become a trauma victim. Trauma doctors, nurses, and paramedics deal with some pretty gruesome wounds: gunshots, stabbings, blunt force trauma, falls, and so on.
These conditions happen under specific circumstances, so it’s important that doctors are well informed on how to treat them. That’s where cadavers help; by being turned into trauma victims that doctors can treat.
8. Practice dummy for surgeons. Surgery is a precise and delicate procedure, which is why doctors can’t just base their knowledge on pictures and footage.
Fully licensed doctors and surgeons will lead groups of medical students through complex and life-saving surgeries, making sure they learn everything perfectly.
9. Med school. As we mentioned before, this is the most commonly assumed destination of bodies donated to science.
Medical students practice on bodies in order to learn all sorts of procedures. They dissect the body, examine organs and blood vessels and learn how to use sutures and incisions.
10. Save lives by donating organs. While this is separate from donating your body to science, it’s still worth reminding. If a person is healthy and intact when they die, they can save others in need of organs.
Currently, there 123,000 people are in need of an organ transplant. The most commonly needed organs include the kidneys, the pancreas, the liver, the lungs, and the heart. Consider becoming an organ donor; your contribution could save dozens of lives!