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Frequently Asked Questions

How can one donate?                                                              
A. In Massachusetts, by law, an individual may arrange for the donation of her/his body after death by executing the Instrument of Anatomical Gift.  This instrument, to be valid, must also be signed by two witnesses.  A copy of this instrument should be sent to the school designated on the form.  It is not sufficient merely to indicate intent on a donor card or driver’s license.  Massachusetts law prohibits payment for a body donation.  To obtain forms for body donation at the University of Massachusetts Medical School you may Email:, phone 508-856-2460, or write to The Anatomical Gift Program, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 55 Lake Avenue North, Worcester MA 01655.  The completion of this form does not require the services of a lawyer or notary.  The form must be signed by two witnesses, preferably someone who can act on your behalf at the time of death.  Upon receiving the completed Instrument of Anatomical Gift, the potential donor will be registered in the database of the Anatomical Gift Program and a donor wallet card will be issued to the donor. Please note that donations made through an individual will may be read too late after death to permit timely acceptance of the donation.

Should I inform my relatives?
We recommend that you tell your family about your decision to donate, in particular your immediate next of kin.  The University of Massachusetts Medical School will not accept your donated body if your nearest relative objects to the donation after your death.  We encourage you to make your donation known to your family, close friends, physician and attorney.

What takes place when death occurs?
At the time of death of a donor, the person responsible for making final arrangements should follow instructions provided by the medical school chosen by the donor. For donors to the University of Massachusetts Medical School call its 24-hour access number, 508-856-2460 and follow instructions. A program representative will confirm acceptance and make arrangements for the removal and delivery of the body from the place of death to the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

How/where will my family obtain death certificates?
The costs of obtaining the death certificate and the burial/transit permit and for transportation from the place of death in Massachusetts to UMMS will be paid by UMMS.  If a funeral director is selected by the family who chooses not to use the services of UMMS, the outside funeral director will be reimbursed by UMMS for transportation of the donor from the place of death to UMMS, filing of the death certificate and for obtaining a burial/transit permit.  The donor’s family can obtain death certificates at the town/city hall where the death occurred.

What happens when death occurs outside of Massachusetts?
If death occurs outside of Massachusetts, the school will bear the cost of that portion of transportation which is within the Commonwealth.  A body must be received by the medical school within 24 hours after death unless other arrangements are made with the specific school. 
Additionally, if a donor is living outside of Massachusetts for part of the year, it is recommended that she/he register in that state as well.  A listing of willed body programs may be found by clicking on or by phoning this office at: 508-856-2460.

Is there an age limit?
There is no upper age limit for whole body donation.

Which diseases would prevent donation of one’s body after death?
Medical conditions that would prevent acceptance as a donor include:  Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, hepatitis, HIV, MRSA, sepsis, and tuberculosis.  Extensive trauma at the time of death, advanced decomposition, morbid obesity, or emaciation would make the remains unsuitable for anatomical study.

What if an autopsy is performed?
Information learned from autopsies is sometimes of importance to the donor’s physician or family, and in some instances, autopsy is required by law. If autopsied, a body will not be accepted into the Anatomical Gift Program at UMMS.

Who can be a witness to my donation?
Anyone 21 years or older, preferably someone expected to be a survivor, may act as a witness. Two witness signatures are required on our donation forms.

What is the final disposition following studies?
After studies are complete the remains are cremated and either returned to the next-of-kin for private burial or buried in a marked grave at Pine Hill Cemetery in Tewksbury Massachusetts.
While the decision of final disposition is requested at the time of the donation, it is not binding and can be changed at any time by notifying the Anatomical Gift Program.

How long will the body remain at UMMS?
It may take one to two years for the studies to be completed.

Can my family have a funeral?
The body must be received by the school within 24 hours after death unless alternative arrangements are made with UMMS. The Anatomical Gift Program offers a memorial service after the completion of studies.
Once the body arrives at UMMS there are no viewing hours.

Is there a difference between Organ Donation and an Anatomical Gift?
A. Yes.  The Anatomical Gift Program supports 
organ donations.  UMMS must receive the body in tact.  In general, tissue and organ donations preclude body donation for medical education. Eye donation is compatible with body donation. Contact the Eye Bank by 
Registration for organ donation can be made with the Registry of Motor Vehicles either in person or by visiting their site at  

Is there a cost to donate one’s body to UMMS?
UMMS will pay for the transportation from the point of death to the medical school. When studies are completed UMMS will pay for the cremation, and delivery of the cremains to the designated place of interment (next of kin, power of attorney, family plot at your cemetery, etc.). The fees that your estate will be responsible for will be any public notifications (obituary in newspaper, etc), also, any certified copies of your death certificate (for Insurance purposes, banking accounts, etc.) Some funeral homes that handle the death will have small fees for their time and that amount is determined by the individual funeral home.

Can a funeral home provide me with information  about Anatomical Gifts? A.  Several Massachusetts funeral homes may be aware and knowledgeable of the Anatomical Gift Program at UMMS, however, it is suggested that the individual contact a program representative by phoning: 508-856-2460. Alternatively, we may be reached by Email:  Contacting a UMMS representative will provide accurate information regarding the policies and procedures of this program and will immediately allow the caller to obtain the necessary documentation for becoming a UMMS donor.

When is a donation refused?
The University of Massachusetts Medical School reserves the right to decline the donation of a body when the remains are deemed unsuitable for educational purposes.  A body should not be previously autopsied or embalmed.

Conditions that may render a body unsuitable include:
• Certain infectious diseases (AIDS, Hepatitis, tuberculosis, MRSA, sepsis)
• Extensive trauma at the time of death
• Advanced decomposition
• Extreme obesity or malnutrition

Please discuss alternate plans with your family, in the unlikely event that we do not accept the gift of your body at the time of your death.

What if I change my mind about donating my body after death?
Please notify us by phoning the Anatomical Gift Program, sending an Email to or by writing to us that you wish to withdraw from this program and your request shall be honored.

What happens at the time of death? 
Once a body has been accepted by the Anatomical Gift Program ‘on call’ representative arrangements will be made by UMMS for the removal and transport of the body from the place of death to UMMS.
Although funeral directors may know about the Anatomical Gift Program it is suggested that you direct any questions regarding the UMMS Anatomical Gift Program to this office.  The telephone number is 508-856-2460 or you may send an inquiry by Email to