Soil lying in and next to gardening tools from human composted soil

If I Donate My Body to Science, Can I Also Become Soil?

By: Team Earth

Jun 21, 2024 | Human Composting 101

2 min read

Human composting is a natural way to generate new life after death, in the form of healthy, nutrient-rich soil. It’s a great way to have a positive impact on the world after you pass away. Donating your body to science or medical research is another impactful decision for the end of your life. But can you do both?

Body donation is the act of donating your body to a research or medical institution. There are many ways a donated body can be used, such as teaching anatomy or pathology, training surgeons, practicing new medical procedures, or testing medical equipment.

Unfortunately, because most institutions will embalm a donated body to extend the length of time it can be used in research, it is difficult to choose both body donation and human composting.

How Does Body Donation Work?

At some point in your life, you’ve benefited from the generosity of someone who donated their body to medical research. It’s estimated that about 20,000 people donate their bodies to medical schools and research institutions each year. These donations make it possible for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to practice life-saving skills.

Prescription glasses lying upside down on top of note book showing medical research

The process of donating your body to medical research will vary depending on where you donate and the rules and processes of specific institutions. In most instances, a person will register with the receiving institution prior to their death. After someone passes away, their family, physician, or funeral home will contact the institution to arrange transportation of the body to their facility.

Once received at the medical institution, the donor is typically embalmed to extend the length of time the body can be used for research. A donor might stay with an institution for one or two years and be used in multiple research projects during that time.

Can anyone donate their body to medical research?

Institutions accepting full-body donations have certain requirements for a body to qualify. If you’re interested in donating, it’s a good idea to make those arrangements ahead of time, so you understand what will be used and how.

When you register before death, you’ll answer some questions about your health and lifestyle to determine whether or not your body can be used. But pre-registration does not guarantee your body will be accepted into the donation program after death. Conditions that may disqualify a body for donation include high or low body weight, extensive trauma, and certain diseases. Some of these requirements can not be determined before death.

It’s a good idea to have a backup plan in mind, in the event that a body is not accepted for donation. Alternatively, there are no qualifications for human composting.

Can soil transformation take place after body donation?

When a donated body is no longer useful in research, they are typically cremated, and the remains are returned to the family, often with the cremation cost covered by the institution. For certain studies, such as those focusing on decomposition and skeletal anatomy, the remains are not retained.

If you wish to donate your body and also undergo human composting, it's important to first contact the medical or research facility to discuss their specific requirements. Many medical institutions that accept body donations require embalming. However, the chemicals used in embalming make the body unsuitable for human composting.

For those interested in both human composting and body donation, it’s crucial to have a conversation with the facility about the possibility of participating in research that does not involve embalming. While certain types of research might not require embalming, it may not always be possible to fulfill both desires.

Alternatively, you can choose to be an organ donor and still have the option to be transformed into soil.

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