body donation

the contribution of a person’s whole body after death to a facility for educational or research purposes.

synonyms: anatomical donation, body bequest, willed body

Mueller, Dean A. “What anatomical donation? Why do families request it?” University of Michigan Medical School. Aug. 1999. Accessed Apr 5. 2015. 

don du corps

“Acte par lequel une personne lègue son corps à une faculté de médecine pour que celle-ci puisse l’utiliser soit aux fins de recherches anatomiques, médicales ou chirurgicales, soit pour l’enseignement de l’anatomie, soit par les chirurgiens désirant répéter une opération difficile.”

synonymes: don de corps, donation de corps

“don du corps.” Le grand dictionnaire terminologique. OQLF. 1998. Accessed Apr 05. 2015.

Donating one’s body to science is probably the very last act of generosity most people will carry out in their lives. Through body donation programs, the dead can, for the last time, contribute to the cycle of existence and  improve the circumstances of the living.

Your body is a wonderland

Donated bodies are often sent to medical labs to help students practice their surgery skills on patients who won’t mind a mistake or two. The heads are shaven and the bodies are kept fresh, as embalming affects the body in ways that would prevent an accurate reflection of surgery on the living. Students tend to be less than enthusiastic about the process. To help them depersonalize the body before them, the cadavers are often wrapped in a gauze that is slowly unraveled as they begin to work on different parts. The heads and hands tend to be the last parts that are uncovered. After having worked on certain sections, students cut off whatever is left untouched so that others can make use of the other pieces.  After all, all parts of the body should be used. After a few years, the remains are cremated separately and can be returned to the next-of-kin. The cost of donation includes the transportation of the body from the place of death to the facility where the body was donated, the registration of death, and other funeral charges. Bodies can be refused due to the presence of a contagious disease, death involving major trauma or suicide, or space limitations within a facility. Bodies on which an autopsy has already been performed or that have had their organs harvested are also refused.

People don’t always realize the many different uses that cadavers can have outside the medical field. Surgery on cadavers is not only done to practice for life-saving operations, some cadavers are also used to practice cosmetic surgery. Now, even a previously homely person can have the chance to “live fast and leave a beautiful corpse.”

Some cadavers are used to advance the science of criminal forensics. Scientists study the rate of decay of bodies in control scenarios, using different environmental or situational factors in order to better approximate time of death.

Bodies are also used to measure the damage received to the human body depending on different impacts (car crash, plane crash, ballistic wounds, etc.) and pretty much any other experiment scientists can think of testing.

For more information concerning cadavers and the ways in which they are used after donation, I heartily recommend Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.


“Anatomy – Body Donation Program FAQ.” University of Ottawa. Accessed Apr 5. 2015.

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003.

organ donation

a process which involves surgically removing healthy organs or tissue from a recently deceased donor or from a living donor, with prior consent from an informed person or from their next-of-kin in order to be transplanted into a living recipient.

“Glossary of Terms and Definitions on Donation and Transplantation.” World Health Organization. Geneva: Nov. 2009. Accessed Apr 05. 2015. 

don d’organe

“Mise à disposition gratuite d’une ou de plusieurs parties du corps d’une personne, par elle-même ou par ses proches, en vue d’une transplantation sur une autre personne du ou des organes donnés.”

“don d’organe.” Le grand dictionnaire terminologique. OQLF. 1998. Accessed Apr 05. 2015.

Dying to be donors

Despite having gained a lot of popularity in recent years, organ donation still remains a controversial issue in some places and is at the centre of many ethical and philosophical debates, many of which also parallel issues with end-of-life care and right-to-die legislation. It gives lawmakers the daunting task of defining what legally constitutes “death.”  A 2014 CBS article suggests that the standard definition of death in Canada can vary depending on which hospital a potential donor is taken to. This can have repercussions on the viability of donated organs, as they can only be legally harvested after the donor has died. However, as Dr. David Zygun explains in the aforementioned article, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of death, as death is a “process.”

As those of you who have taken a course in philosophy will remember, there are those who believe that death occurs from a cessation of brain stem function, known as brain death, even if the patient’s cardiopulmonary functions can be artificially maintained. There are those who believe death occurs after the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory function, or cardiac death. Finally, there are those who require both brain death and cardiac death.

In Canada, different provinces follow different standards, but hospitals are also allowed to make their own decision. Even when hospitals adopt a specific standard, they may not agree on the amount of time organs should be retrieved after death.  The time range can extend from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Doctors take on a Hippocratic oath, which compels them to always act in a patient’s best interest. The issue is muddled when they must make a choice between ensuring that one patient is truly dead and risk spoiling their organs for a dying patient on a waiting-list, or potentially ending a life prematurely to ensure their organs are still viable. It’s a very serious dilemma. As the documentary Dead Enough demonstrates, there have been some cases where potential donors unexpectedly recovered from severe brain injuries.


“Dead Enough.” The Fifth Estate. Mar 21. 2015. Accessed Apr 05. 2015.

“Glossary of Terms and Definitions on Donation and Transplantation.” World Health Organization. Geneva: Nov. 2009. Accessed Apr 05. 2015. 

Sisler, Julia. “Medical debate over defining death has implications for organ donors.” CBS news. Mar 21. 2014. Accessed Apr 5. 2015.