Publication - Advice and guidance

Body donation in Scotland: guidance

Published: 2 Apr 2019
Last updated: 4 Mar 2021 - see all updates

A guide to donating your body to medical science in Scotland.

Body donation in Scotland: guidance
Introduction

In Scotland, bodies donated to medical science are used for:

Anatomical examination

This means the teaching of the structure and function of the human body to medical students or healthcare professionals. This would include, for example, learning of surgical techniques.

Education and training

This means the training of healthcare professionals or other non-healthcare professionals e.g. sport science students, through visual examination, as opposed to anatomical examination.

Research

This involves scientific studies designed to improve the our understanding of the human body in health and disease.

It is not possible to donate your body for research purposes alone, however if this is something you feel strongly about, for example assisting with research into a specific disease, please see the additional information section

How organ and tissue donation relates to donating your body to university anatomy schools

An anatomy bequest cannot go ahead if organs/tissue have been removed for transplantation, although if the donor has donated only eyes/corneas a bequest could be possible.  Aside from transplantation there are also other reasons why a body may not be accepted by an anatomy school; for example the cause of death could have made the body unsuitable for anatomical examination.  Your chosen university anatomy school website will provide further details.

If a person dies in circumstances in which they can donate organs/tissue for transplantation and it is authorised (they have opted in on the NHS Organ Donor Register or their authorisation for donation can be deemed under the opt-out system), and they have also completed an anatomy bequest form, then transplantation will take priority given its life saving potential. 

Only around 1% of people die in circumstances where organ donation may be possible, which means dying in an intensive care unit. Tissue donation occurs in some wider hospital settings.

Organ and tissue donation – opt out system

Under the opt out system, if a person has not opted in, or opted out, and dies in circumstances where they could donate organs/tissue for transplantation, their authorisation may be deemed to have been given. 

Authorisation cannot be deemed until there has been a conversation with the family about the individual’s views to ensure that donation does not go ahead if it would be against the individual’s wishes.

The Scottish Government is encouraging people to make a decision about donating their organs and tissue for transplantation, record it on the NHS Organ Donor Register (either opting in or opting out) and to discuss it with their family.

What action should people completing an anatomy bequest form take?

If you want to bequeath your body for anatomical, education, training and research purposes only if organ/tissue for transplantation is not possible you should:

  • complete an anatomy bequest form, which is provided by the university bequest coordinator
  • authorise donation for transplantation by opting in on the NHS Organ Donor Register.  We are encouraging people to register a decision as, although we are moving to an opt out system, registering your decision to donate can make it easier for your family, and help to ensure that your decision is honoured
  • discuss your decision and preferences with your family

This means that you have authorised both body donation for anatomical, educational, training and research purposes and donation for organ/tissue transplantation, and if both are possible in the specific circumstances of death then donation for transplantation will take priority.

If you want to bequeath your body to an anatomy school for anatomical, education, training and research purposes and not be considered for organ/tissue donation under any circumstances you should:

  • complete an anatomy bequest form, which is provided by the university bequest coordinator
  • opt out on the NHS Organ Donor Register
  • discuss your decision and preferences with your family

This means that if you die in circumstances where you could donate organs/tissue for transplantation, it will not go ahead.  If the anatomy bequest is possible then it may go ahead.

Recording your decision/bequest in your will

Please do not rely solely on recording your decisions in your will.  Wills are not always read until after the opportunity to make the bequest has passed.  Similarly, wills are not usually read until after donation for transplantation would take place, as organ donation has to take place very shortly after death. 

Further information

Our section on next steps provides guidance on how to make the necessary arrangements for body donation. 

Please note that university anatomy departments cannot guarantee that a donated body will always be accepted after death. This is due to a number of factors.  Please see the additional information section to find out more.

If you have any further questions about the process of body donation, what will happen after your death, what arrangements can be made once the anatomy department has completed its work or anything else relating to body donation in Scotland then please see the additional information section.

The university contacts page can help you get in touch with your nearest anatomy department.

Information about organ donation is on the organ donation scotland website. 

Contact

Email: anatomy@gov.scot

HM Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland
Scottish Government
St Andrew's House 
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

First published: 2 Apr 2019 Last updated: 4 Mar 2021 -