Skip to Content

School of Medicine


Gift of Body FAQs

Thank you for considering making a Gift of Body donation. We hope our FAQs can answer any questions you might have.

When does my "Intent of Donation" register with your program? It is immediately upon receipt?

Once we receive your signed forms, there is a seven day waiting period before the initial acceptance of your intent to donate is considered complete. This allows time for us to process paperwork and update our databases and for you to receive your letter of acceptance in the mail.

OK, I got my acceptance letter and my donor card in the mail. So now what happens?

Following the death of a Gift of Body Donor, the next-of-kin legal representative or medical personnel should contact the program at 803-216-3888. Once the family is ready for us to pick up the body, the university will make arrangements for transportation of the body to the School of Medicine.

**  If a donor dies at home, the first call should be to the Coroners Office for the county of death.  Once the Coroners office has been called, and the body released, the Gift of Body Program may be called. The coroner's office should fax the Burial/Transit Permit to the program at 803-216-3848.

What happens if I die on the weekend or after office hours?

The next-of-kin legal representative or medical personnel should contact the program at 803-216-3888. If the office is closed, the answering machine will relay instructions on what procedure to follow.

What happens if I die on vacation or while out of the country?

If a donor passes away outside of the state of South Carolina, we make every effort (with the family's permission) to have the body donated to a local program. If the family specifically wants the donor returned for acceptance at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, then the family is responsible for all transportation fees.

If a donor passes away while overseas, we suggest that the family do a direct cremation and cancel the intent of donation. Cost and time factors involved with transporting a body back to the states adds an excessive amount of stress during an already stressful time for the family. We ask, however, that the family inform us of their decision so that we may close our file for the donor.

What about my personal effects? How does my family get those back?

Any personal effects should be claimed by the family, or a health care worker, prior to transport to the university. 

What if I spend part of each year in another state? Can I still be a donor?

Yes. Our suggestion is to arrange donation intent in both states where you spend your time. Then, the process will be in place for donation upon death in either state. Please inform the alternate program of the donor's passing so that they can close the donor file.

Will there be any charge to my family?

No. There are no charges from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine unless the family decides to go outside of Gift of Body standard protocol. If so, any charges incurred will go directly to the family. Any deviation from standard protocol must be discussed with program personnel before final acceptance.

Do we need to contact a funeral home?

No. The School of Medicine acts as the funeral home for our donors and will work with the family to get death certificates filed and obituary notices placed. The family may enlist the assistance of a traditional funeral home if they wish to do a memorial service for the donor, but it is not required. If a family does wish to use a funeral home, please have the funeral home personnel contact the program to familiarize themselves with Gift of Body protocol. Any deviation from our standard protocol may cause the donation to be declined.

What immediate financial charges can my family expect following my death?

Transport

There is no charge to the family unless the family has a funeral home (or other agency) move the body. If that is the case, the family directly incurs any charges from the funeral home, as this action would be outside of the program protocol.

**  The only exception to the standard (no-cost) transport protocol is for current donors who have moved out of South Carolina to a neighboring state without transferring to a local donor program. For final acceptance in this case, the family must agree to pay mileage costs for transport outside of the state. This out-of-state-mileage fee must accompany the donor body and be paid to USC School of Medicine. 

Obituary notices

The Gift of Body program will work with the family to have notices placed in newspapers specified by the family. Family will give information for the obituary notice directly to the selected newspaper(s), and will be directly responsible for any fees incurred.

Death certificates 

There is a small fee from the county of death for certified death certificates. These will be needed for things like insurance, banking institutions, probate and social security. This fee is payable directly SC DHEC-Vital Records when the order for the certificates is placed.

Memorial service  

Any private ceremony arrangements remain the responsibility of the family. 

**  The Gift of Body program, medical students and professors sponsor a memorial service once a year for all donors who passed away during that year. Family and friends are invited to join us at this yearly service, which is usually held late March or early April.

Is a funeral ceremony allowed before donation of my body?

Yes, as long as the body is kept cool and transported within 48 hours of expiration. Preferably, the family will hold a memorial service without the body present (as the body begins to break down immediately after death). Any delay in transport of the body must be discussed with program personnel.

Can my family hold a viewing, or visit to say goodbye once my body has been transferred to USC?

No. The University of South Carolina School of Medicine does not have the facilities for any type of viewing. If there are family members at a distance who wish to say a final farewell, we can delay transport for a period of time. However, these arrangements need to be discussed with program personnel as soon as possible. Once the body is transported to the School of Medicine, there will be no viewing or visitation allowed.

Is there any chance that the university will not accept my body when I die?

Yes, it is a possibility. Certain conditions, if present, will preclude acceptance into the Gift of Body program:

  • Incomplete filing of paperwork with the program

  • Family (or coroner) requested autopsy, or family objection or refusal

  • More than 72 hours post-mortem (even if stored in cold room/morgue storage)

  • Any embalming procedures begun or performed by personnel other than that of the program

  • Sepsis or open wounds (minor bedsores excepted) 

  • Contagious diseases: HIV, VRE, Hepatitis C or B (at any time), any current Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, etc.

  • Dementia from Creutzfeldt-Jakob (early onset/rapid death) form of Alzheimer’s

  • Any potential infection which could present a hazard to faculty, staff or students during study

  • Post-mortem donated body parts, other than eyes, to other programs

  • Any trauma to the body (i.e., accident, suicide)

  • Any recent (72 hour) radiation, isotope tracing, radioactive angiogram or radioactive iodine

  • Any radioactive implant for cancer treatment

  • Medical obesity (BMI of 35 or above) or emaciation (BMI of 17 or below)

  • Amputation of more than one limb

What is my family supposed to do if my body is refused?  Isn't this a contract for the school to accept my body when I die?

The University of South Carolina School of Medicine is not a mortuary. Program donations are intended to be a source of human anatomy education for medical students and must meet the needs of the school. The percentage of refusals is minimal, but the refusal list and policy is taken very seriously. There are specific reasons for each item on the refusal list. Families should be prepared to make other arrangements if the donor's body cannot be accepted by our program.  

What will my body be used for?

The major purpose for the Gift of Body program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine is for training of the first year medical students in the subjects of Gross Anatomy and Medical Embryology.

What about organ donation? Can I donate my organs for transplant?

Eye donation is the only type of post-mortem (after death) donation allowed in conjunction with the Gift of Body program. Arrangements for the harvesting of eyes after death must be made by the donor with a local hospital or clinic. These arrangements, and any costs incurred, are the responsibility of the donor and/or the donor's family. These procedures must be completed prior to transport to the School of Medicine as we do not have the facilities or staff to perform this procedure.  

Will my family get a report about what caused my death?

No. An autopsy would be required in order to provide a report concerning specifics beyond those listed on the death certificate. Requirement of an autopsy would preclude acceptance to the program and, although the program is used for the teaching of whole-body study, the students are not working at a level to provide any kind of a report to the family.  

Can my body be used for research in order to cure a particular disease/disorder?

No. Our program is specifically geared toward teaching and, although there are many individuals who wish to donate their bodies to science with the specific purpose of helping to cure a particular disease or disorder, there are few programs for research that use post-mortem tissues.

How long will the university hold my body for study after I die?

Generally, the "study period" is from one to four years depending on study assignment. At the end of the study period, each donor’s body will be cremated and returned to the Gift of Body program offices for arrangement of final disposition.

What happens to my body once the study period is complete?

Upon completion of the study period, each cadaver will receive a cremation at the expense of the School of Medicine. The Cremains (cremated remains) will be interred at the school's expense at the Gift of Body Donor Memorial Garden, which is located on the School of Medicine grounds. The interment site is marked with a suitable plaque and a memorial book honoring the donors.

Can my family get my ashes back?

By request, cremains of Gift of Body Program donors may be returned to family for private disposition via personal release or USPS mailing. Donor family is responsible for any postage fees. The school must be notified in writing with a letter that includes the contact persons' name, address and phone number.

In order to assure return of cremains, the family must make their request within two months of the date of death. Late notifications are not guaranteed. After cremation and interment, the cremains cannot be removed and returned to the family. Donors who sign up for the Permanent Donation Program (see Polymer Preservation Program information) will not have the option of having cremains returned to the family. 

Can my ashes be buried/scattered/entombed at a particular location?

Yes. Your family or next-of-kin representative has various choices for final disposition of your cremains (ashes). As long as the program has been notified that the cremains are to be returned, we will make every effort to get them back to the family. However, it is the responsibility of the family or next-of-kin representative to make arrangements for final disposition. Once the cremains are available for return, we will contact the individual listed as contact person for the donor. It is at that time that we will make the final arrangements for return. 

** For donors with non-responsive next-of-nin representatives concerning return of donor cremains, the cremains will be held in our offices for 12 months and then interred in the memorial garden. It is the responsibility of the contact persons to notify the program of any change of address.

Can my family change my donation intent against my will?

Technically, no. The form that you signed donating your body to science following your death is a legal document stating your intent. However, we do strongly suggest that each donor discuss their wishes with the family. We have found that the strongest protest from families comes when the donation is a surprise. As this can be a somewhat sensitive issue, it is understandable that a donor may be hesitant to discuss this decision with family.

We ask that donors keep two facts in mind:

  1.  If the family does not inform the program about the death of a donor, intent becomes a moot point.  Donation can only occur if the program is informed of the donors' passing.

  2. The university will not force a donation against the expressed protests of the family.

Be kind and give your family the chance to understand your feelings about this issue so that they can come to terms with your decision to donate.

What if my family and I are estranged, or I want to donate no matter what they say?

In all cases, it is a good idea to name one particular person as the executor of your will. It should be someone whom you trust to carry out your instructions for the disposition of your body and your estate. We still suggest that all donors discuss their intent of donation with their family whether an executor is named or not. The legal issue of who "owns" your body after your death has never been adequately explored or determined by the legal system in our state. For your own peace of mind, it is best to have settled this issue before you pass away, rather than leave family members to argue over it once you are gone.

Where does my body go? Is this program and the group in Charleston the same thing? Are they the same as the program I signed up for back in another state when I lived there? Is the card I got at the health fair good at any of these programs? 

Donors signed with USC School of Medicine Gift of Body Program will be delivered to the VA Campus of USC on Garners Ferry Road in Columbia, SC. There is also a donor program located in Charleston at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), as well as a newer program at USC-Greenville in the upstate, but these programs are not connected. Each program is run independently and according to the particular needs of that school; therefore the policies and protocol are set by the institution that sponsors that program. There is no universal program of body donation. Getting a donor card at a local health fair does NOT mean a donor is enrolled in a program. The card merely signifies intent; it does not mean acceptance.

Which program should I sign up for? USC or MUSC? Are there any other programs in, or around South Carolina?

South Carolina presently has three programs for whole body donation; one in Columbia, one in Charleston and one in Greenville. All programs are open for acceptance from the entire state, but a donor may wish to look at the nearest program. Keep in mind that each program will have its own criteria for acceptance. There are several programs in North Carolina and Georgia, but again, each will have its own criteria for acceptance. Most programs tend to stay with in-state donations only, as laws and required paperwork vary from state to state.

What if my friend wants to donate when he/she dies?What about the family friends who wish to donate their stillborn child, or the grandparent when he/she passes away?

Anyone wishing to file an intent of donation can contact the program for the informational packet, which also contains the forms needed to file. The forms do need to be witnessed, but a notary is not required. The program is restricted to acceptance for individuals 18 years and older only. Individuals can only donate themselves. If an intended donor is of frail health, someone can fill out the forms for the donor, but the donor must sign the official forms themselves. Forms with original donor signatures must be submitted to the program, a copied signature, or a faxed copy will NOT suffice.

Is there no exception?

The only exception is for those individuals who have openly expressed the intention to donate, but whose health has severely declined, or their disease has progressed to the point that they are no longer able to sign the forms.  If there has been a legal Power-of-Attorney (P.O.A.) appointed for the individual, that person may sign as the P.O.A. for the individual, but a copy of the P.O.A. document must be filed with the donation application. This must be filed before the death of a donor as P.O.A. ceases at death.  Again, these arrangements are best done in advance, rather than risk leaving it to the last minute. The seven day waiting period would be in effect for P.O.A. donations as well. The other exception is for veterans who pass away at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, SC. We can accept Next-of-Kin donations from the Dorn VA Medical Center ONLY. No exceptions to this.

I had heard that you could get paid or reimbursed for donating your body? Or that my spouse could claim something on their taxes for donation?

There are lots of rumors or "urban legends" concerning body donation. We encourage you to ask for the facts if you are unsure.

  • There is no reimbursement, or exchange of monies, for someone donating their body.
  • Although rumors stubbornly persist, we assure you that it is illegal to "sell" or "buy" a body.
  • Because it is illegal to "sell" or "buy" a body, it is also not possible to set a price on a body for the purposes of claiming the donation for tax purposes.
What if I think of another question?

Any additional questions or concerns can be addressed to the program coordinator at 803-216-3888.