Q: Since I was a teenager (I’m almost 68 now), I wanted to donate my body to science because I didn’t like the idea of taking up space in a cemetery.
I had a contract with Emory University Medical School in Atlanta to pick up my body as soon as I died. My family and friends knew it was my wish and, even though they thought it was strange, they accepted it.
When I retired and moved here, I knew Emory would no longer be an option.
I still want to do it and I hope you know of medical schools or research labs in Fort Lauderdale and nearby towns that want my body. I am delighted that you will do the research. I’m not in a hurry – at least, I hope not. LOL.” — Ernie Blankenship, Oakland Park
AN: Ernie, what you want to do is very important and warms my heart. How else will science advance to save more lives if we don’t make sacrifices (and occasionally upset our relatives a little)?
The state of Florida has a very organized system for accepting bodies into its medical schools. The Florida State Board of Anatomy distributes them through three academic centers: the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, and the closest to us, the University of Miami.
UM distributes cadavers to seven locations in South Florida, including its own school, the Miller School of Medicine, as well as Florida Atlantic University, Barry University, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the Coral Gables branch of the University of St. Augustine.
Freshman medical students, physical therapy students, medical residents and continuing education students learn from dead bodies, according to the UM Body of Will Program website. Not everyone is allowed to donate: cancer patients are accepted, but some bodies are rejected for reasons including serious injury, weighing more than 250 pounds, or contagious disease.
I wasn’t aware of this program, so I was surprised to learn that South Florida schools received 105 bodies last year, which “covers what we need,” according to David Hoodiman, director of body donation services at the College of medicine. More women than men donated their bodies, another surprise for me; the ratio was 2:1, he said.
Donors must make their own arrangements to get their remains to the university, with costs typically ranging from $800 to $3,000 for preparation and transportation, said Hoodiman, who is licensed as a funeral director.
Hoodiman said his team performs additional embalming on bodies because they must last up to two years, depending on when the person dies in relation to the academic calendar. Everyone with access to the cadaver lab is required to sign an “oath of respect,” promising not to eat near the body, make jokes or take pictures, he said.
Corpses are cremated after use. The remains can be moved to the location of your choosing, or the Anatomical Council will scatter the ashes over the Atlantic Ocean.
If medical student education doesn’t appeal to you, other options include donating your organs through the National Donate Life Registry (donatelife.net) or donating your cornea or other eye tissue through the Florida Lions Eye Bank (fleb.org ).
There is also the Florida Brain Bank for those who have had age-related dementia for at least one year (adrcares.org/brainbank).
If you have more questions about UM’s body donation program, Hoodiman said to contact him. Call 305-243-6691 or email [email protected]
Have questions about living in South Florida? Email Lois at [email protected]