Anatomical Gift Program FAQ
- How can I donate?
- Do I need to include my intent to donate in my will?
- What should my family or next-of-kin do at the time of my death?
- For what reasons would my body not be accepted by Harvard Medical School?
- What are the costs, if any, associated with donating my body?
- What if my death occurs out-of-state?
- What will my body be used for?
- May I donate my organs as well as my body?
- What length of time will my remains be at Harvard Medical School?
- What happens with my remains when studies are complete?
- Will Harvard Medical School conduct research relevant to the cause of my death and provide my family with a report?
- Will there be a memorial service?
- If I have additional questions, whom may I contact?
A. In accordance with the Massachusetts Uniform Anatomical Gift Act you may arrange for the donation of your remains by executing the Instrument of Anatomical Gift (PDF). For the Instrument to be valid, you must be of sound mind, over 18 years of age, and the Instrument must be signed by two witnesses. The original Instrument should be sent to Harvard Medical School, after which you will be registered in the program, and will receive your letter of acknowledgment and donor card. You may withdraw your donation at any time by notifying our program in writing of your change of intention. Massachusetts law prohibits payment for a body donation.
A. You may include your intent to donate in your will. However, because a will may not be readily available at the time of your death, it is more important that you carry your donor card in your wallet, and that you inform your next-of-kin of your wishes and provide your next-of-kin with a copy of your Instrument of Anatomical Gift.
A. Contact HMS to confirm the acceptability of your donation as soon as possible at 617-432-1735 or 617-432-1379 (after hours, weekends, and holidays).
A. Acceptance of an anatomical gift is contingent upon the decision of Harvard Medical School at the time of death of the donor. Autopsy, embalming, emaciation, obesity, advanced decomposition and history of contagious disease (Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, etc.) are among the major reasons we cannot accept a donor. Harvard Medical School reserves the right, at any time, to decline a particular donor. Although most anatomical donations are accepted, donors and their families should plan alternative arrangements in the event that a donation must be declined.
A. Harvard Medical School pays a stipend directly to the funeral home toward transportation costs within Massachusetts, as well as any necessary permits and authorizations, including the certified copy of the death certificate provided to the medical school. The donor’s estate will be responsible for any costs charged by the funeral director that exceed the stipend. The family should discuss with the funeral home whether there will be any additional charges.
A. HMS may be able to accommodate an out-of-state donation if your remains are suitable for donation and your family is able to make the arrangements and bear the costs associated with delivery of your remains to HMS within 24 hours. Alternatively, you may refer to this directory to find a program in another state.
A. The study of the human body in medical schools is an invaluable and indispensable part of medical education and research. Each year bodies are needed for the teaching of medical and dental students, postgraduate physicians and students of related disciplines. Private donation is the source of Harvard Medical School’s donations.
A. The Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School is a whole body donation program. The only organ that you can donate elsewhere and still participate in our program is the eye. As before, your remains will need to reach HMS within 24 hours of your passing. The phone number for the New England Eye Bank, Newton, MA, is 617-964-1809.
A. For a period of up to approximately 24 months.
A. Harvard Medical School will carry out the disposition of the remains as elected on the Instrument of Anatomical Gift, to the extent consistent with the current policy of the School. Options available at the present time are to reclaim the remains at the expense of the estate or family for private burial, or to request that HMS arrange for cremation. Cremated remains can be returned to the donor’s designee, picked up by the donor’s designee at HMS or buried at Pine Hill Cemetery, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, in a registered grave; these options are available at the expense of HMS.
Q. Will Harvard Medical School conduct research relevant to the cause of my death and provide my family with a report?
A. Harvard Medical School does not perform autopsies, determine the cause of death, nor provide a report regarding the donor’s cause of death. At the time of death, the attending physician must sign a death certificate, unless the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner. The death certificate will document the cause of death.
A. Friends and families of donors buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery are invited to a graveside memorial service that takes place each year in the fall. Harvard Medical School students conduct a private memorial service in honor of the donors at the conclusion of their studies as well.
A. Please call our office at 617-432-1735 with any additional questions you may have. For calls that require immediate attention, we provide 24-hour coverage. The after-hours, holiday, and weekend number is 617-432-1379. You will reach Harvard Medical School Security, who will put you in contact with the Anatomical Gift Program representative.