Financial donations in wills are commonplace. As are legacies of specific items. The leaving of your body as a donation upon death though, is a rarer occurrence. There are various reasons why people choose not to do so, but those who do choose this route play an important role in the advancement of medical research and knowledge.

If you're considering the idea of making such a bequest in your will, or are simply intrigued, here are a few insights into the world of human body donation.

The pandemic's effect on body donations

Unfortunately - and perhaps unsurprisingly - the COVID-19 pandemic means that all universities have currently suspended their body donation programmes. While the reasons for this seem obvious, it is less clear, precisely how this might affect body donation programmes in the future. It is noteworthy that Glasgow University are currently asking to be notified of deaths in relation to their bequest programme at this time. This is to allow the university to record how many bequests are rejected as a result of the pandemic.

What happens after a human body is donated?

Successfully donated bodies are used for three main purposes:

  • anatomical examination – where medical, dental and science students learn about the structure and function of the human body;
  • education and training - to train healthcare professionals, usually those learning surgical techniques; and
  • research - scientific studies designed to improve our understanding of the human body in health and disease.

How common is it and how is it regulated?

The Anatomy Act 1984 (later amended by the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006) sets out the legislative framework for the lawful use of human bodies and body parts after death. HM Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland has responsibility for reporting on all inspections carried out across university anatomy departments in Scotland. Cumulative figures show that for the period from August 2018 to October 2019, there were 256 bodies successfully donated to licensed institutions in Scotland.

What do I do if I want to donate my body?

The first step is to contact your solicitor to review your will, or to discuss putting a will in place if you don't already have one. While a clause bequeathing body donation can be included, this on its own will not be enough.

A university with a licenced anatomy department should also be contacted, at which point, a bequest form will need to be completed and signed. It's also important to be aware that, just as there are no guarantees in life, not all bodies are accepted upon death. As a result, it is crucial that alternative funeral arrangements are catered for in your will to ensure that all possible outcomes are covered. This prevents any unnecessary inconvenience for loved ones, who should also be made aware of your intentions at an early stage.


Scott Archibald

Trainee Solicitor