Want to extend your precious time on earth? Here are nine options for living on after you die.
1. Donate your organs or tissues
In the USA, nineteen people die every day waiting for an organ such as a kidney, heart, lung, liver or pancreas. Others live in darkness or debilitation, hoping for the gift of bones, ligaments, heart valves and corneas, which aren’t of use to you in the hereafter, but can certainly help someone else. Your gift of life or functionality to another human being is a truly precious legacy. Learn about organ donation or tissue donation, sign an organ donor card, tell your family your wishes, and don’t be misled by myths about organ donation. If you prefer, you can donate some organs but not others. In Georgia, donate organs by going to Donate Life Georgia
2. Donate your body to a university
Help a future doctor learn about the human body by becoming a cadaver dissected by first-year medical students. A state-by-state list of medical schools can get you started. Medical schools have an ongoing need of bodies for teaching and research. Some programs accept just specific organs, rather than a full body, such as the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, which accepts brains with and without neurological or psychiatric disorders. No medical school buys bodies, but there is usually little or no expense for the family when death occurs. Therefore, if you live in an area where low-cost funeral options do not exist, body donation may be an economical as well as thoughtful and generous choice.
3. Help doctors practice their skills
If you’d prefer to be worked on by folks with more experience, actual (not future) doctors can learn from your body. At the Medical Education and Research Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, doctors brush up on their skills and learn new techniques; it’s the training facility for organizations such as the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the North American Skull Base Society and the International Spinal Injection Society.
Doctors get to practice (and possibly make mistakes on) the dead rather than the living. In return, the institute provides for transportation for your body to Memphis, pays for cremation once the work is done and returns the ashes to your family (or, if you prefer, to an internment facility in Memphis).
If you like the idea, you can fill out a donor form. If you’d prefer to first see where your body’s headed, the institute welcomes visitors.
4. Leave your body to “the body farm”
Did you ever wonder how, on TV shows, detectives know the time of death just by examining the body? Cops can thank the folks at the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center for helping them figure it out. “The body farm,” as it’s known, has “650 skeletons and growing” scattered over 2.5 acres in Knoxville, according to its website. Researchers and students study bodies in varying stages of decay to help anthropologists and law enforcement officials answer important questions, such as body identification and time of death analysis. (For a fascinating account of a visit to the center, see Mary Roach’s book “Stiff.”)
If you want to become one of those skeletons after you die, you’re in luck, as they make donation pretty easy at the Body Farm. Get their Body Donation Packet, fill out their Body Donation Document and complete the biological questionnaire. They’ll want a photo of you to help them learn more about “facial reconstruction and photographic superimposition as a means for identifying unknown individuals,” according to the center’s website.
If you live in Tennessee and within 200 miles of Knoxville, you’re really in luck, because they’ll take care of all the costs. If not, your family will be responsible for arranging transportation to the center.
Once they’re done with you at the Body Farm, your family doesn’t get your remains back, so if that’s important to you, this isn’t your best option.
5. Become a crash test cadaver
Plastic crash test dummies are all well and good, but there’s nothing like a real human body to simulate what happens in a car crash. You can will your body to the Wayne State University School of Medicine to become a crash test cadaver by filling out its Body Bequest Form. The form is for donation to the university, but “if a person specifically requests that their body be used in safety testing that is ongoing at the Bio-Mechanics lab, then we would honor that wish,” according to the school’s mortuary supervisor.
6. Give your body to a broker
We don’t mean a stockbroker; we mean a body broker, who will take your parts and get them to scientists who will use them for research, training and education. There are several groups in this business, including Science Care, Anatomy Gifts Registryand BioGift Anatomical.
Generally speaking, here’s the upside of these groups: They pay to have your body transported to their facility, and with the parts that are not used in research, they pay for cremation and to have the ashes returned to your family (some will, if you prefer, distribute them at sea). This can save your family a lot of money.
The downside: You don’t know where your parts will go. They don’t guarantee that they can use the body in any specific research program, because their research is always changing. You need to intend to donate to science, not to a specific research project. Some brokers will allow you to say what areas you’d prefer your parts not go to, if this is important to you. You will need to do some research to find a broker who offers this option.
7. Send your body on tour
If you’ve been to the “Body Worlds” exhibit, you know what plastination is: a process of posing and hardening a body so it appears life-like.
You, too, could become one of these bodies on display by donating to the Institute for Plastination. Your body will be embalmed then shipped to Germany, where technicians will perform the plastination process. They’ll remove fat and water, “impregnate” your corpse with rubber silicone and position it into a frozen pose (you might be, say, running or sitting cross-legged or performing ballet or perhaps riding a horse). Your body is then hardened into that position with gas, light or heat. The entire process takes about a year, according to the group’s website.
Your family pays to get your body to the embalming location, and the Institute for Plastination incurs the shipping costs to Germany.
There are rules about donation. You can be old, and you can be an organ donor, but if you died in a violent manner, it might not work out, as your body must be “largely intact” in order to donate, according to the institute’s website.
Also, there’s no guarantee your body will end up in one of the five exhibits. Some plastinated bodies are sent to medical schools and training programs, and you don’t get to decide the destination of your corpse, according to Georgina Gomez, the institute’s director of development.
8. Become a skeleton
Researchers from around the world visit the extensive skeleton collection at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Your family pays to get your body to the museum’s facility in Albuquerque, and your remains (besides your bones, of course) get cremated and disposed of; they do not go back to your family. Researchers who want to work with the skeletons have to apply to the museum’s Laboratory of Human Osteology; the skeletons are not put on display for anyone at the museum to see. Here is some information, the legal donor permission form and a donor information form.
9. Be on display at a museum
You can donate parts of your body to the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. If you do so, you’ll be a part of a pretty rarified group. Anna Dhody, the museum’s curator since 2004, has received only three inquiries about donation after death.
Although the museum is particularly interested in bodies with abnormalities, it’ll also consider taking your remains even if there’s nothing particularly pathological about them. Either way, your family will have to foot the bill to get you to Philly. To learn more, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.