Organ donation and donating your body to science

Some people want to make a difference after they’ve died by donating their body or organs to science. If you want to make sure your final wishes are followed, there are some steps you’ll need to take.

In this guide we’ll take you through donating your organs and how to donate your body to scientific research. That way, you’ll know what you need to do to make your final wishes clear.

Organ donation after death

Donating your organs after your death is a personal choice. You may feel strongly about your decision. So to make sure your wishes are taken care of after your death it’s sensible to register or opt out of organ donation now. It may not be the first thing on your mind. But it’ll make it easier for your family to understand your decision ahead of time.

UK law and organ donation

The law on organ donation in England changed in 2020 to help more people get the transplants they need. It changed to an opt-out system. This means that in when you die it’s assumed you want to donate your organs unless you’ve opted out. But you can still register as an organ donor too. That way it’ll be clear that you want to donate your organs. The law is similar in Scotland and Wales. Learn more about how to register as an organ donor or opt out below.

How to register as an organ donor

It’s easy to join the organ donor register or opt out. It can all be done online within a matter of minutes.

On each of the websites you can specify which organs you prefer to donate (choosing from heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, eyes, pancreas, small bowel and tissue). Or you can say you’re happy to donate all of your organs and tissue. And if you’d rather not be an organ donor you can register to opt out.

In Wales, things work a little differently. Rather than signing up to the register, everyone is automatically enrolled and must opt out if they’d prefer not to be an organ donor. This can be done at Organ Donation Wales. This means that if you’re over the age of 18 and die without opting out it’ll be assumed that you agree to becoming an organ donor.

How to opt out of organ donation

To opt out go onto the NHS organ donation website and register not to donate your organs. If you live in Scotland go to the Scottish organ donation website. You’ll need to fill in a few details about yourself including your name, date of birth, address, and ethnicity. If you change your mind you can change your registration or withdraw it whenever you like.

Who can donate their organs after death?

Anyone can sign the organ donor register. But if you’re under the age of 18 (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 16 (in Scotland) when you die, the hospital will still need your parent’s or guardian’s consent to use your organs.

Who can’t donate organs?

You can still donate your organs if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But at the time of death, a doctor will decide which organs are fit for donation. People can’t donate their organs if:

Is there an age limit on donating organs?

There’s no upper age limit for organ donors. But if you’re above the age of 80 you won’t be able to donate your corneas. And if you’re above the age of 60 you can’t donate tendons or heart valves. But you’re still able to donate other body parts that’ll help people.

Can your family override organ donation in the UK?

It’s important to tell family members about your decision to register as an organ donor. This is because your family can override your decision after you’ve died. Doctors will always respect your family’s wishes if the idea of organ donation causes them distress – even if you’re registered as an organ donor. Because of this lots of opportunities for transplants to go ahead are missed. So it’s a good idea to tell your family you’d like to donate your organs now to avoid any uncertainty.

Body donation after death

Donating your body after death is a way to help with scientific research into the human body. You can donate your whole body or specific parts, such as brain tissue or spinal cord.

Donated bodies can be used to help science in different ways, including:

Keep in mind that if your body isn’t accepted by the hospital, your family will need to make arrangements for a funeral and burial or cremation. So it’s still a good idea to have plans in place to pay for a funeral.

How to donate your body to science

In the UK, there’s no national register for donating your body to medical science. Instead you need to contact a medical school and make arrangements with them directly. You can find a local medical school on the Human Tissue Authority website.

You must provide written consent before your death if you want to donate your body. No one else can authorise this after your death. You can get the forms you need from the medical school you contact. It’s also sensible to get your signature witnessed. And a copy of the consent form should be stored along with your will and other important documents.

You should tell your friends and family about your decision. You may also want to speak to the executor of your will so that they’re aware of your wishes.

When you die, the university should be contacted by your family as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made for your body to be transported to the medical school. The Human Tissue Authority also gives out body donor cards which you can keep in your wallet. They work in the same way as an organ donor card to make people aware of your wishes.

Who can donate their body to science?

Anyone can register to donate their body to science. However, when you die, your body might not be accepted. The main reasons why a hospital might not accept a body donation are:

Can you be an organ donor and a body donor?

It’s possible to register as an organ donor and a body donor. But keep in mind that if your organs are taken for transplant after you’ve died, most medical schools won’t accept your body for medical research. So if it’s really important to you that your body is left to science, you might want to opt out of being an organ donor.

Will there be a funeral afterwards?

If you donate your organs there’s no effect on the body itself so you can still have a funeral. Doctors will always show the utmost care in removing organs and tissue. This means the body will be returned to the family in the same condition as if organ donation hadn’t taken place. There’s also no delay to the burial process.

If you’d like to donate your body to medical science it’s important to know that most medical schools cremate the remains. So if you or your family would prefer a private cremation or burial this will need to be arranged with the medical school. It’s always best to talk with the medical school to see what their usual policy is.

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Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
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