Tissue donation: a proactive way to help save human and animal lives

Human tissueWe were recently asked how to go about leaving your body to medical science, and since this is a question often raised by those wanting to do something practical to help reduce reliance on animal subjects, it’s worth summarising the available information here.

There are various ways in which you can donate part or all of your body for the benefit of medical research.

Surplus tissues removed during surgery can be stored in hospital biobanks if you let the surgeon or nurse know in advance.

Organ donations save thousands of lives each year, but if your organs are unsuitable for transplant they can still play a valuable role in research.

Brain banks need both diseased and healthy brains to study Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases peculiar to humans.

Whole bodies are always needed by medical schools, whether for research purposes or to teach anatomy and surgical techniques. Under the Human Tissue Act 2004, consent for this must be given prior to death. A consent form can be obtained from your nearest medical school and a copy should be kept with your will. You should also inform your family, close friends and GP that you wish to donate your body. The medical school will arrange a cremation or burial, which the family may wish to attend, although this may not be for up to a year after the donation has taken place. Many medical schools also organise annual services of remembrance in order to recognise and thank donors and their families.

Further information, including contact details for medical schools throughout the UK, is available from the Human Tissue Authority website. Two inspirational stories about body donation can be read here and here.

Our thanks to Safer Medicines for these references.

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