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Burial, Cremation and Death Certification Team
Scottish Government
St Andrew's House (3EN)
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

0131 244 2711

Frequently Asked Questions

Body Donation in Scotland - Frequently Asked Questions

1. What will my body be used for?

In Scotland bodies are used for:

  • Anatomical examination: This means the teaching of the structure and function of the human body to students or healthcare professionals.
  • Education and training: This means the training of healthcare professionals, usually those learning surgical techniques, as opposed to anatomical examination.
  • Research: This involves scientific studies designed to improve the our understanding of the human body in health and disease.

Please be aware it is not possible to specify what you would like your body to be used for.

2. Is there an age limit?

In Scotland anyone over the age of 12 can choose to donate their body to medical science. There is no upper age limit.

3. Do medical conditions present a barrier to donation?

Some medical conditions, particularly some forms of surgery, may mean that it is not possible for your body to be accepted. Any conditions you may have should be discussed with the bequest co-ordinator at the university of your choice who will be able to provide further advice.

It is important to note, however, that final decisions about whether a body can be accepted cannot be made until time of death.

4. What happens once the University are finished with my body?

Universities are permitted by law to retain a body for up to 3 years. If you give permission at the time of donation it is also possible for universities to retain parts of the body for a longer period of time.

Once a body has been released by the University a cremation will be arranged at the local crematorium. Next of kin will have been asked by the University if they wish to receive the ashes or alternatively ashes can be scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at the crematorium.

Every year, each University holds a memorial service to recognise the gift given by those who have donated their body for medical teaching and research. Next of kin would be invited to attend.

5. Can I choose to be buried or cremated?

Yes, although not all universities are able to offer burial every effort will be made to ensure your wishes are carried out. If burial is not the normal practice of the University then the cost of burial may be required to be paid by the donor’s estate.

6. Will my family be able to receive my ashes?

Yes. Cremations are carried out individually and the University will be able to ensure that your family receive your ashes.

In addition, each University holds a memorial service to recognise the gift given by those who have donated their body for medical teaching and research. Your next of kin would be invited to attend.

7. What if I am on the organ donor register?

Registering to be an organ donor and for body donation means that both of these options can be considered at point of death. For this reason, we would encourage anyone to register for both. However, at the point of your death if you donate an organ, it is not possible to donate your whole body to a University.

We believe that the most important thing is to save a life wherever possible, therefore organ donation will always be given priority. However, the circumstances under which people are able to become an organ donor are quite specific. If the circumstances mean that it isn’t possible to become an organ donor then, provided the required legal paperwork was completed during your life, you may be able to donate your body to medical science.

You can register to join the organ donor website here.

8. Can my family override my decision?

It is extremely important to discuss your wishes with your next of kin in order that they can carry out your wishes equipped with the necessary knowledge and understanding of what is involved.

Donating your body to medical science will mean, for example, that the ‘usual’ private funeral involving burial or cremation cannot take place, although funeral directors or family can of course still arrange a private memorial or remembrance service.

All the university anatomy departments are very conscious of avoiding any additional distress to the bereaved, and this significant difference in funeral arrangements is an example of where distress can be caused. If, therefore, the university is made aware of a strong objection from the next of kin the department will not accept a body for donation.

9. Who will meet the funeral costs?

If a body is accepted then the university will take responsibility for cremation costs.

The next of kin/executor can still, of course, arrange their own private service although no cremation or burial will take place as the body will not be present. The cost of this private service would be met by the donor’s estate or by the next of kin/executor.

Donors should ensure that they have an alternative funeral plan should acceptance prove not to be possible.

10. Is it possible to donate just my brain?

Yes. Dr Colin Smith is the clinical lead at the Edinburgh Brain Bank at Lothian University Hospital and Tracey Millar is the senior research nurse - contact:

Dr Colin Smith
Tracey Millar

Further information can also be found on the Human Tissue Authority website, which holds contact details for various centres which focus on research for specific diseases.

11. I want to donate my body for specific research, is this possible?

Yes. Further information can be found on the Human Tissue Authority website, which also holds contact details for various centres which focus on research for specific diseases.

12. What do I need to do to ensure my body is donated to medical science?

Firstly it is important to know that there is no way to ensure that your body is donated to medical science. This is because a number of factors, which are only apparent after death, affect whether or not a body can be accepted by the university.

However, what you can do is ensure that your name is on the ‘bequest register’, this will mean that steps will be taken to ensure your wishes are met after your death where possible.

After you have read the information available, discussed your wishes with your next of kin and you are certain that you would like to add your name to the bequest register you should contact the university anatomy department of your choice. Normally this would be the university closest to your home in order to minimise any possible transportation costs to your estate.

The Bequest Co-ordinator at the university will be able to answer any further questions you may have and will provide you with the legal paperwork you are required to sign, and return to the university, in order to ensure that every effort is made to carry out your wishes after your death.

You should also include your wish to donate your body to medical science in your will. This must be a testified will lodged with your solicitor. Both the intention to donate your body and your signature must be witnessed and the document must be signed by the witness in addition to yourself. If you are under 18 but over 12 years old then this must be two witnesses who, in addition to the requirements above, should also confirm in writing that you were not acting under undue influence.

13. I registered with my local university quite a few years ago, will it still be valid?

Yes, although there have been some legislative revisions in recent years your original application is still valid. However, you may wish to check with your local university department that your name is on their bequest register.

14. I registered with my local university but I have now moved to a different area within Scotland. Do I need to re-register with my new local university?

This is desirable, but not strictly necessary. At the time of your death your next of kin would be able to contact your nearest university anatomy department, who would be able to contact your previous university to request your bequeathal paperwork.

15. What happens if my body is not accepted?
If an anatomy department is unable to accept your donation, they may be able to help find another university which can accept your body.

However, if no university anatomy department is able to accept your offer, your estate will need to make suitable funeral arrangements.

16. Why wouldn’t my body be accepted?

The acceptance of a body is dependent on a number of factors including medical conditions, the circumstances of death, how quickly the university is contacted and the storage capacity within the university.

17. Are there any costs or payments involved?

You will not receive any payment for donating your body.

Some University anatomy departments may request that the donor’s estate contribute to the cost of transporting the body, particularly if the donation falls outside of the department’s local area. Full details can be obtained directly from the bequest co-ordinator.

18. How will the body be transported?

All of the University anatomy departments have an arrangement in place with a local undertaker who will transport the body to the university.

If the donation falls outside of the department’s local area this may incur a cost to the donor's estate. Full details can be obtained directly from the bequest co-ordinator.

19. What if I don’t have any next of kin?

If you don’t have any family then next of kin can be a friend or a nominated person such as a carer or GP.

20. What legislation relates to donating your body to medical science?

The Anatomy Act (1984) as amended by the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 is the legislation which details the legal requirements surrounding the donation of a body to medical science.

21. What if I change my mind?

If you change your mind and decide you now longer wish to be a donor please contact the relevant university. The Bequest Co-ordinator will ensure your details are removed from the register.

22. My question hasn’t been answered here…

As the experts in this field, the University anatomy departments are best placed to answer any further questions you may have. You can find the contact details for all the universities on the University Contacts page.