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Body donation

What is body donation?

Body donation is when a person’s deceased body is given to a body donor program and/or a licensed anatomical facility. This can be done either through a person’s written consent before their death or with the consent of their senior available next of kin after their death.

What is a body donation program?

In NSW a body donation program is usually organised through a university or medical research facility.

How do I find out if there is a body donor program near me?

Contact your nearest university, hospital or medical research facility.

Information about an institute’s body donor program is available online.

Process for consenting to body donation 

Do body donor programs prefer consent from the person or the senior available next of kin?

Body donor programs generally prefer that the person pre-registers their consent so they can monitor the person’s health.

Do all body donor programs use the same consent form?

No. Each body donor program has its own consent form.

Are there any costs involved in donating a body?

Usually there are no costs to the donor. Body donor program specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor programs.

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Can a donor say how they want the body used?

This depends on the body donor program.

Most body donor programs allow you to indicate on the written consent form conditions or terms for use.  For example, whether you will or will not allow your body or tissues to be used for research.

Program specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor program.

It is important that you discuss your wishes with your family about your  body and/or tissues being used for research.

Donating a body to medical science or research

Who can donate a body to medical science or research?

Under the Anatomy Act 1977 (NSW), a person who wishes to donate their body must provide written consent before their death. Alternatively, the senior available next of kin is able to provide consent in writing after death, if the deceased had not during their lifetime expressed an objection.

The executor of a will cannot give consent unless they are also the senior available next of kin.

If the body is at a hospital or forensic institution, a designated officer at that facility must authorise use of the body for anatomical examination. Refer to the Authority for Anatomical Examination form for further information.

The Coroner's consent is needed where the death has been reported to the Coroner. A Coroner must provide written consent to authorise a body for anatomical examination.

It is important that you discuss your wishes regarding body donation with your family.

If a body is accepted by a body donor program, what happens when the person dies?

If you have registered your wish to donate with a body donor program,  make sure that your family knows of your decision. That way either your family or hospital staff can contact the body donor program you are registered with when you die. Specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor programs.

Can a body be donated after a post-mortem examination?

This depends on the body donor program. Specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor programs.

How are the bodies donated to body donor programs used?

This depends on the body donor program. Programs may use bodies for the teaching of medical and health students, training of surgeons in new surgical techniques or for research. Program specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor programs.

Can a body donor program reject a body?

Yes. Reasons may include:

  • the body is unsuitable for the purpose for which it would be used
  • it has been too long since death
  • it is not feasible to transport the body to the program location
  • the facility is full at the current time
  • the body is not medically suitable for donation

I would like to be an organ donor and donate my body to medical science. Can I do both?

Most body donor programs encourage people to register as an organ donor as well as a body donor.

Unlike organ donation, which has the national Australian Organ Donor Register, there is no single body donation register in Australia.

A body donation consent form needs to be obtained from the body donor program of interest. Where a person has consented to both body and organ donation, preference is given to organ donation if donated organs offer lifesaving benefits.

There are some cases where body donation cannot take place.

 For example:

  • teaching requires whole bodies with intact organs,
  • the embalming fluid used for body donation can’t flow through the deceased body if the main blood vessels have been cut. The purpose of inserting embalming fluid into a body for anatomical use is to ensure the long-lasting preservation of tissues, and
  • donated bodies with extensive surgical incisions and reconstructions make the anatomical embalming process difficult.

How long can a body donor program keep a body?

Under section 12 of the Anatomy Act 1977 (NSW), a body can be retained for a maximum of four years. Once an application has been received, an inspector may authorise the retention of a body for an additional four year period. Generally, bodies must be appropriately disposed of within eight years from the date of death of the deceased.

Specific provision has been made in the Anatomy Act 1977 (NSW) for the permanent retention of tissue (anatomical specimens) where written consent has been given by the deceased before death. Where  consent has not been given and the wishes of the deceased in this respect are unknown, the senior available next of kin may consent to permanent retention of tissue.

Current as at: Tuesday 9 January 2024