Medical Education

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Q. How can I donate?

A. In accordance with the Massachusetts Uniform Anatomical Gift Act you may arrange for the donation of your remains by executing the Instrument of Anatomical Gift (PDF). For the Instrument to be valid, you must be of sound mind, over 18 years of age, and 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 acknowledgment 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.

Anatomical Gift Program
Harvard Medical School
Tosteson Medical Education Center 158
260 Longwood Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Telephone: 617.432.1735
Email: agp@hms.harvard.edu

Q. Do I need to include my intent to donate in my will?

A. You may include your intent to donate in your will. However, because a will may not be readily available at the time of your death, it is more important that you carry your donor card in your wallet, and that you inform your next-of-kin of your wishes and provide your next-of-kin with a copy of your Instrument of Anatomical Gift.

Q. What should my family or next-of-kin do at the time of my death?

A. Contact HMS to confirm the acceptability of your donation as soon as possible at 617.432.1735 or 617.432.1379 (after hours, weekends and holidays).

Q. For what reasons would my body not be accepted by Harvard Medical School?

A. Acceptance of an anatomical gift is contingent upon the decision of Harvard Medical School at the time of death of the donor. Autopsy, embalming, emaciation, obesity, advanced decomposition and history of contagious disease (Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, etc.) are among the major reasons we cannot accept a donor. Harvard Medical School reserves the right, at any time, to decline a particular donor. Although most anatomical donations are accepted, donors and their families should plan alternative arrangements in the event that a donation must be declined.

Q. What are the costs, if any, associated with donating my body?

A. Harvard Medical School pays a stipend directly to the funeral home toward transportation costs within Massachusetts, as well as any necessary permits and authorizations, including the certified copy of the death certificate provided to the medical school. The donor’s estate will be responsible for any costs charged by the funeral director that exceed the stipend. The family should discuss with the funeral home whether there will be any additional charges.

Q. What if my death occurs out-of-state?

A. HMS may be able to accommodate an out-of-state donation if your remains are suitable for donation and your family is able to make the arrangements and bear the costs associated with delivery of your remains to HMS within twenty-four hours. Alternatively, you may refer to this directory to find a program in another state.

Q. What will my body be used for?

A. The study of the human body in medical schools is an invaluable and indispensible part of medical education and research. Each year bodies 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.

Q. May I donate my organs as well as my body?

A. The Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School is a whole body donation program. The only organ that you can donate elsewhere and still participate in our program is the eye. As before, your remains will need to reach HMS within twenty-four hours of your passing. The phone number for the New England Eye Bank, Newton, MA, is 617.964.1809.

Q. What length of time will my remains be at Harvard Medical School?

A. Within a period of up to approximately twenty-four months.

Q. What happens with my remains when studies are complete?

A. 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 the School. Options available at the present time are to reclaim the remains at the expense of the estate or family for private burial, or to request that HMS 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; these options are available at the expense of HMS.

Q. Will Harvard Medical School conduct research relevant to the cause of my death and provide my family with a report?

A. Harvard Medical School does not perform autopsies, determine the cause of death, nor provide a report regarding the donor’s cause of death. At the time of death, the attending physician must sign a death certificate, unless the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner. The death certificate will document the cause of death.

Q. Will there be a memorial service?

A. Friends and families of donors buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery are invited to a graveside memorial service that takes place each year in the fall. Harvard Medical School students conduct a private memorial service in honor of the donors at the conclusion of their studies as well.

Q. If I have additional questions, whom may I contact?

A. Please call our office at 617.432.1735 with any additional questions you may have. For calls that require immediate attention, we provide 24-hour coverage. The after hours, holiday and weekend number is 617.432.1379. You will reach Harvard Medical School Security, who will put you in contact with the Anatomical Gift Program representative.