Many of today’s medical advancements wouldn’t be possible without the thousands of people who donate their bodies for medical education and research. Each year, the UCLA Donated Body Program receives about 175 donated remains from patients, staff and members of the community. These donations provide unending benefits — not only to UCLA caregivers, but to those in healthcare around the world.
Donor bodies have contributed to the development of many new medical procedures, including arthroscopic knee surgery, flap reconstruction for burn victims and hand and face transplants. The brains of deceased Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease patients continue to further researchers’ understanding of the development of those diseases and how treatments affect them.
Donor bodies also play a role in shaping the next generation of doctors, allowing surgical residents to hone their surgical skills before entering the operating room. UCLA medical and dentistry school students rely on these donations to help them learn more about human anatomy and gain hands-on experience.
Unfortunately, too few people know about body donation. Dean Fisher, director of the UCLA Donated Body Program, says less than 1 percent of Americans are registered to be body donors. Fisher is hoping to boost those numbers by raising patient awareness about the program.“A new UCLA Advance Directive will have a section for patients to indicate interest in organ donation, body donation or both,” says Fisher.
A frequently asked questions section on the Donated Body Program’s website addresses body-donation misconceptions. Many people do not realize that there are differences between body donation and organ donation, while others mistakenly equate a body donation with an autopsy request. “The Donated Body Program doesn’t look for causes of death like an autopsy would,” says Nicki Harris, senior administrative analyst for the UCLA Donated Body Program.
With the exception of those who have infectious diseases (e.g., HIV or hepatitis), bodies that weigh more than 250 pounds or autopsied bodies (due to changes in their anatomic structure), “just about anyone age 18 and older can donate their bodies,” explains Fisher. Studies on a body can last several years. Upon completion, the sterile, cremated remains of all UCLA body donors are scattered into the ocean. There are no costs to the donor’s family for these services.
To learn more about the UCLA Donated Body Program, visit uclahealth.org/donatedbody.
Each year, medical students at UCLA invite the families and friends of the past year’s body donors to a Ceremony of Thanks held on the UCLA campus. “Students have an opportunity to express their gratitude to the families, while families get the chance to hear firsthand the value of their loved ones’ selfless contributions,” says Nicki Harris, senior administrative analyst. “It is amazing to think how one person’s final gift at death may lead to the gift of life for others suffering from debilitating diseases.”