Anatomical Gift Program

Medical Education

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Donating Your Body

Program Brochure

The need for donations

The Study of the human body for education, research and the advancement of medical and dental science or therapy constitutes an invaluable and indispensable part of medical and dental education. Each year donors are needed for the teaching of medical and dental students, post-graduate physicians, and students of related disciplines. Private donation is the source of Harvard Medical School’s donations.

Who can donate

Any person of sound mind who is over 18 years of age can register to donate his/her body for education, research and the advancement of medical and dental science or therapy (Chapter 113, §§ 7-14 of the General Laws of Massachusetts). There is no age limit for those who wish to donate.

How one can donate

In accordance with the Massachusetts Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, an individual may arrange for the donation of his/her remains by executing the Instrument of Anatomical Gift (PDF). To be valid, 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 acknowledgement 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.

When Death Occurs

At the time of the donor's death, the person responsible for making final arrangements should call Harvard Medical School at 617.432.1735 as soon as possible to determine if HMS can accept the donation.

Once a gift is accepted, a funeral director chosen by the family should be contacted and instructed to consult HMS for instructions about the transportation of the body. HMS will pay a stipend directly to the funeral director toward the costs of transportation from the place of death to HMS and obtaining the Burial/Removal Permit and a certified copy of the Death Certificate.

The funeral director will be reimbursed only for the cost of these services according to the policy and levels of reimbursement established by HMS. The donor's estate will be responsible for any costs charged by the funeral director that exceed the stipend. If death occurs outside of Massachusetts, Harvard's stipend to the funeral director will apply; however, any additional out-of-state travel expenses will fall to the donor's estate.

In general, families are encouraged to discuss with the funeral director, before the remains come to HMS, whether and to what extent there may be additional charges.

HMS must receive donor remains within 24 hours after death unless specific exemption is granted by HMS. A body that has been autopsied or embalmed cannot be accepted for donation.

When Studies are Complete

Within a period of up to approximately twenty-four months, when studies are complete, 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 Harvard Medical School. The options available at the present time are:

  • To reclaim the remains at the expense of the estate or family for private burial.
  • To request that the School 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; both options are available at Harvard Medical School's expense. A memorial service for donors buried at Pine Hill Cemetery takes place each year in the fall.

Alternative Arrangements

Acceptance of an anatomical gift is contigent upon the decision of Harvard Medical School at the time of death of the donor. Harvard Medical School reserves the right, at any time, to decline a particular anatomical gift for any reason.

The School has an ongoing need for donations and carefully reviews all possibilities for utilizing donations for purposes of education, research and the advancement of medical or dental science or therapy. Although most anatomical donations are accepted at the time of death, a donor (or donor family) should plan alternative arrangements for private cremation and/or burial in the event a donation must be declined.

We thank you for your interest in this gift to medical education and research.