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Anatomical examination

What is anatomical examination?

Anatomical examination is where a body or parts of a body, such as organs, are cut apart to allow a person to look at the inside of the body or body part. Anatomical examination may take place as part of research, education or training for health professionals.

Who can conduct anatomical examinations in NSW?

Under the Anatomy Act 1977 only a person who holds a licence to practice anatomy (or their delegates) may conduct anatomical examinations.

How do you get a licence to conduct anatomical examinations in NSW?

A person who is in charge of conducting anatomical examinations at an educational, medical or research facility may apply in writing to the Secretary, NSW Health for a licence. There is no specific application form; however the application must include the proposed licensee(s), facility location, people who will have access to the facility, security for the facility, proposed activities, process for accessing, registering and disposing of bodies / body parts and ethics approval (where relevant).

Generally a licence is valid for 2 years subject to satisfactory annual inspections.

A person wishing to hold a one-off workshop or training session must apply using the procedure above, including documentation of the event.

Further information is available in PD2011_052 Conduct of Anatomical Examinations and Anatomy licensing in NSW.

Body donation

What is body donation?

Body donation is where a person’s body is given to a body donor program and / or a licensed anatomical facility either following the person’s written consent prior to 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.

Who can donate a body to medical science or research?

Under the Anatomy Act 1977, a person who wishes to donate their body must provide consent for the donation in writing before their death. Alternatively, the senior available next of kin is able to provide consent in writing after death, provided that they are not aware that the person would have objected. 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.

The Coroner’s consent is needed where the death has been reported to the Coroner.

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

Do 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 donor programs use the same consent form?

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

How long can a donor program keep a body?

Under section 12 of the Anatomy Act 1977, a body can be retained for a maximum of 4 years. Upon application an inspector may authorise the retention of a body for an additional 4 year period. Generally bodies must be appropriately disposed of within 8 years from the date of death of the deceased.

Specific provision has been made in the Anatomy Act for the permanent retention of tissue (anatomical specimens) where written consent has been given by the deceased prior to death. Where no consent has 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.

How are the bodies donated to donor programs used?

This depends on the 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 donor programs.

Can a donor say how they want the body used?

This depends on the program.

Most body donation 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 programs.

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

Are there any costs involved in donating a body?

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

Can a 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 donation programs encourage people to register to be an organ donor as well as a body donor, if they would like to do so.

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 donor program of interest.

Where a person has consented to body donation and organ donation, preference is given to organ donation if s/he is suitable, because of its life saving benefits.

Following organ donation, it may not be possible for body donation to take place because:

  • teaching usually requires whole bodies with intact organs
  • the embalming fluid necessary for body donation cannot flow through the body if the main blood vessels have been cut. The focus in anatomical embalming, unlike that for funerals, is on long-lasting preservation of tissues and a number of different chemicals are used. Bodies with extensive surgical incisions and reconstructions make the anatomical embalming process difficult.

Can a body be donated after a post mortem examination?

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

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 donor program you should make sure that your family know your decision. That way either your family or hospital staff can contact the program you are registered with when you die. More specific information can be obtained from the individual body donor programs.

Page Updated: Tuesday 6 December 2016