I am in my early 70s, with no life-threatening health problems. I have donated my body for scientific research. I think this is the right thing to do. I hate the hypocrisy of funerals. My concern is that the university does not guarantee to take my body. I know that none of my organs has been removed but even if I am intact, I cannot know for certain that my body will be accepted. If I were not doing this, I would pay into a funeral plan to ensure that my cremation caused as little bother and expense as possible to my loved ones.

I worry that I will have caused my family unnecessary pain and difficulty at the worst time. Has any reader had experience of a loved one donating their body? And can anyone from a medical science department explain the procedure to me?

Check with your family

Make sure that your relatives know of, and agree with, your wishes. I naively thought that if you wrote your desire to donate your body to science in your will, your relatives would be legally bound by this. But when a friend's father died,

The solicitor said it would be "no problem" to ignore this part of the will.
his son didn't want to wait for a funeral that might be delayed until the university released his father's body. The son asked the solicitor whether anything could be done, and the solicitor said it would be "no problem" to ignore this part of the will. I was appalled that it was so easy to dismiss someone's dying wish. Name and address withheld

It's a risky business
My 86-year-old father died two years ago, having reached an arrangement with Bristol University to donate his body for dissection or research. The university had sent him details making it clear that a decision whether or not to accept his body would be made at the time of his death, depending upon things such as the number of bodies available at that time. The tenor was very much that the university was doing him a favour, rather than the reverse.

The tenor was very much that the university was doing him a favour, rather than the reverse.

The two of us had discussed this fully some years before his death, and we both accepted that there would be a chance that his body would not be required. I had not expected what actually happened.

I telephoned the contact number within hours of my father's death. As this was outside office hours I was not surprised that it was an answerphone, so I left a message. There was no response the next day, and I rang again — in working hours — and was met with the same recording. Another message, again without response. And again. In all, five or six calls without speaking to anyone, and leaving a message on each occasion. No response was ever received, and alternative arrangements were made for a non-religious funeral and cremation in accordance with my father's plan B.

I had expected a straight yes or no, coupled with a little sensitivity, but the university failed on both counts. While I hope my experience was atypical, I suspect that it was not. I must say I am reluctant to put those who survive me through the same distress. Jim Wood, Monmouthshire

Be prepared for rejection

Our 68-year-old father died in hospital and we left him there to be collected by the people with whom he had arranged donation. Three days later we were telephoned to say his body was not wanted and we had to arrange

If you donate your body, make sure they want it.
a funeral. Unlike your reader, we had not agreed with him whether he wished to be cremated or interred. To have his body rejected compounded our distress and denied him a dignity that his generous bequest had merited. If you donate your body, make sure they want it. JB Polley, Salisbury

Don't be put off
Human tissue — from the old or young, healthy or unhealthy — makes excellent research material for advancing the understanding of disease and for producing and testing new drug products. Depressingly, the appropriate authorities have failed to establish a proper infrastructure so that tissues can be collected, safely stored and distributed to those many research institutes and companies that would find it invaluable.

Some 400,000 animals are bred and killed every year solely for their body parts.

As a consequence, some 400,000 animals are bred and killed every year solely for their body parts. This is not only unacceptably cruel, but animal tissue cannot be relied upon in the context of human medicine.
Using it for test tube studies is, quite simply, hazardous. Animal Aid has been campaigning on this issue since 1991.

Peterborough District Hospital (tissuebank.co.uk) will take donated tissues. The UK Human Tissue Bank (ukhtb.org), based at De Montfort University in Leicester, will also take and distribute a large number of tissue types. The next step forward will be for the Department of Health to cease its irrational opposition to a new joint donor card that would allow people to leave tissue for research and/or transplantation. Andrew Tyler, Director, Animal Aid, Kent

A positive experience
My mother arranged for her body to be donated to Liverpool University in the 1960s and, although she did not die until 1995, the university could not have been more helpful and gentler in its handling of the arrangements. She died in Cumbria and in order to save the university extra expense I paid for her body to be transported directly to the university. As far as I was concerned it was the way that she would have wanted.

Nine months later the university contacted me and asked me if I would prefer burial or cremation (at their expense) and whether we wished to attend. All her family went to the cremation in Liverpool. The service was simple but caring and the sermon was based on the fact that medical students needed to be able to study the human body.

The only blemish was that the newspapers would not insert her obituary and mention her generosity to science.

Unknown to the minister, my mother's youngest grandson and his friend were with us that day and had heard only the day before that they had just qualified as doctors. This alone was sufficient reason for me to arrange for my body to be used for the benefit of a future generation of doctors. The only blemish on the whole affair was that the Liverpool newspapers would not insert her obituary and mention her generosity to science. Gwyneth Raymond, Cumbria

An option to consider
The Multiple Sclerosis Society welcomes brain and spinal tissue. By comparing tissue from individuals with and without MS, it is able to study damage to organs specifically caused by the disease. It cannot take the whole body, but it can liaise with other tissue banks who could take other parts. For details, call 020-8846 7324. Dorothy Ryan, Hitchin

"Private Lives" appears every Friday in The Guardian.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Harvest Time:
Associated Press, Aug 28, 2002
  When the heart stops first, plans can turn for the worse.