Anatomical Gift Program FAQs

Donation Eligibility Questions

Any individual at least 18 years of age or older and of sound mind may make an anatomical gift to the School of Medicine.

Although Ohio law permits anatomical gifts by individuals under the age of 18 in certain cases, the School of Medicine will not accept a gift from individuals under 18. There is no other age restriction.

Unfortunately, the Department of Anatomy is unable to accept out-of-state donations. If you happen to be out-of-state when you pass, the Department is able to provide a list of medical schools within that state, should your family or next of kin call about your donation.

Restriction Questions

Yes, the Department of Anatomy reserves the right to refuse a body for any reason. The following is a list of examples for why we may refuse:

  • Under the age of 18
  • Died in states outside of Ohio
  • Died of infectious disease (e.g. COVID-19, Meningitis, HIV/AIDS, Sepsis, etc)
  • Embalmed elsewhere
  • Autopsy performed
  • Recent surgery (within 3 months)
  • Organs removed (except eyes)
  • Body Mass Index of greater than 30
  • Deterioration to an extreme degree
  • If a relative notifies the Department of Anatomy that they want to make another disposition of the body at their expense. The Department of Anatomy will ask for assurance that the family has arrived at an agreement before accepting or refusing the body.

Yes. The Department of Anatomy will only accept donations made on the departmental donation form.

Starting the Donation Process Questions

In Ohio, an individual may make an anatomical gift by their Last Will and Testament or by a card or other document which complies with the Ohio Anatomical Gift Law. However, the School of Medicine will only accept gifts which are made by using the Case Western Reserve University donation form.

All three forms need to be signed in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign in your presence and the presence of each other. One copy of each of the documents should be returned by mail or email to the School of Medicine; you should retain one copy and also give one to your physician and next of kin.

We do not require a medical history.

You may include your intent to donate in your will. However, since a will may not be accessible at the time of death, it is important to carry your donor card in your wallet/on your person. We also recommend providing a copy of your card to your family or next of kin.

The Department of Anatomy prefers not to accept a body if it is contended by the family or next of kin. For this reason, we strongly recommend discussing your intention to donate with your family before signing your donor forms.

At the Time of Death Questions

When we are notified of your death, our funeral director will ask the name of your physician and if he/she has been notified. If the death occurs within 75 miles of Cleveland, we will send a van to pick up the body and bring it directly to Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine. Under these circumstances, there will be no charge to your survivors or estate.

If death occurs outside the 75-mile radius, the cost to transport the body to CWRU is that of the survivors or estate. These charges can include fees required of the local mortician for his/her services and all transportation costs.

If death occurs near another medical school, we urge the survivors to call the Department of Anatomy of that school to arrange making the donation there. 

In any case, where there is no attending physician, or where accidental, violent, or suspicious death occurs, the coroner has complete jurisdiction over the disposition of the body.

When we accept the body of the deceased, we generate the original death certificate. The Department of Anatomy will then complete its portion of the death certificate, have the attending physician sign it, and then will file the certificate with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the municipality where the death occurred. Copies of the death certificate can be ordered from the Bureau of Vital Statistics at the expense of the survivors or estate.

At the time of death, please have the family or next of kin contact us at 216-368-3430. If it is after hours or on the weekend, please call the Program Funeral Director at 216-368-2255. If unable to reach anyone, call 216-221-9330. The numbers are also found on the back of your donor card; we ask that your card accompany your body when it is transported to Case Western Reserve University.

No publicity will be given to your donation. A statement about the facts of the donation may be made public by the family or next of kin if they wish to do so. Bodies are entered in our records by name and assigned a number. Only the number accompanies the body into the laboratory, to offer some privacy to individuals.

Withdrawal Questions

Yes, you can revoke your donation at any time, by any of the following ways:

  • Submit, in writing, your request to withdraw
  • Give an oral statement made by you, and in the presence of two persons, and communicate it to the School of Medicine
  • Carry a signed card or document stating your wish to revoke the donation
  • Give a statement during injury or illness to your physician, who can then communicate it to the School of Medicine

Utilization of Your Donation Questions

The majority of bodies which come to the Department of Anatomy will be used for the teaching of anatomy (body structure) to medical, dental, graduate, nursing, and/or physician assistant students. Other bodies are used by interns and residents to review anatomy in connection with their specialty training for surgery. A few bodies may be used by physicians to develop new surgical procedures. A few bodies may also be sent to institutions elsewhere whose purpose, facilities, and personnel involved have been approved by the Department of Anatomy. In every case, the Department of Anatomy retains control of the body.

Your body may be used for research. However, the first priority of the CWRU Anatomical Gift Program is to provide future health care professionals the opportunity to learn normal human anatomy. 

Organ Transplant Questions

Yes, you can donate usable organs for transplant purposes, but those donations are not handled through the Department of Anatomy. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, Chapter 2108 of the Ohio Revised Code provides that any person of sound mind and at least 18 years of age may donate all or part of their body for medical purposes after death.

Organ donor cards and further information may be obtained from your local donor organization.

No. It should be understood that removal of any organs, except eyes, at the time of death renders the body unsuitable for anatomical studies and therefore, the Department of Anatomy is unable to accept the body.

Yes. The eyes are the only organs that may be removed with subsequent acceptance of the body by the Department of Anatomy. Should a donor make arrangements for eye donation, the eyes would be harvested before CWRU takes your body. It is the sole responsibility for the family or next of kin of the donor to make arrangements to notify the applicable eye bank at time of death. 

Autopsy Questions

There may be cases in which the physician is puzzled by death, and if the survivors wish to do an autopsy, they must also make other arrangements for disposition of the remains, at their expense. The Department of Anatomy cannot accept a body that has gone through an autopsy (see also, restrictions).

No, the Department of Anatomy will not provide any final report on anatomical/pathological findings. As the purpose of this program is mainly in educating future health care professionals, we are unable to determine or report on any findings that may be seen during the teachings or training. 

No, the Department of Anatomy will not provide any autopsy reports. If after the Department of Anatomy has received the body, but before dissection has begun, and the family or estate decides an autopsy is necessary, the Department of Anatomy will return the body to the control of the family. In this instance, a nominal embalming fee will be charged. Any subsequent costs, e.g. transportation, pathology report, funeral, or cremation, must be paid by the family or estate.

The Department of Anatomy will not re-accept any bodies that have been returned to the family or estates.

Remains, Funeral, and Memorial Service Questions

Once studies have been completed, unless you or your next of kin requests return of the ashes (see next question), the remains are cremated and commingled with other ashes, and then interred in a cemetery plot at Riverside Cemetery, 3607 Pearl Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44109. If the remains are to be interred at Riverside, a religious, non-sectarian memorial service will be held by a member of the clergy. At the Riverside grave, there is a headstone upon which the following words are inscribed: “They Gave in Death, For Those in Life, Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 1967.” There are no additional gravestones, and individuals are not listed by name on the monument.

Yes, the donor must indicate on their application or provide written instruction for the private disposition of their remains, at which point the Department of Anatomy will make a reasonable effort to deliver the cremated remains back to the family or next of kin. 

Case Western Reserve University will typically use a donation for up to 24 months.

We encourage family members to hold their own memorial service for their loved one after passing. The Department of Anatomy will also hold a yearly memorial service for all individuals after the completion of their studies (typically 18-24 months after death). We invite family members to be a part of this memorial service, as the Department honors their loved one for the selfless gift they made.

In order for one’s body to be maintained in good condition for medical education, it is necessary that it be embalmed as soon as possible after death. Therefore, every effort is made to bring the deceased to the School of Medicine as quickly as possible. Family members may hold a memorial service for their loved ones.

Financial Questions

No. Payment of any kind for a body is against Ohio law.

This decision is yours to make. However, if for any reason your body is not accepted by the Department of Anatomy, the expense of alternate disposition falls upon the family.

Logistical Questions

If your name or address changes, please contact the Department of Anatomy at 216-368-3430. We will process and send you a new donor card.

Upon admission, inform the care staff that you are an anatomical donor to Case Western Reserve University; it may be helpful to provide a copy of your donor card to the care staff. If you were to pass away during your stay, the care staff will notify the Department of Anatomy.

The family or next of kin would be responsible for all costs associated with other arrangements.

Contributions to CWRU Questions

Yes, contributions can be made in your memory. Gifts are not necessary but will be used to support the many educational opportunities we offer or can be used in a specific way, at the sole discretion of the department, should the family request it. All checks can be made to CWRU Department of Anatomy.