Body donation in Scotland: guidance

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


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

If an anatomy department is unable to accept your donation, they may be able to find another university in Scotland 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.

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.


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 a 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 will be invited to attend these services.

Brain donation

It is possible to just donate your brain. The Edinburgh Brain and Tissue Bank (EBTB), which sits within Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, can talk to you about donation in this way. Tracey Millar is the senior research nurse - contact:

Tracey Millar

Further information can be found on the EBTB website.

On information for the rest of the UK, the Human Tissue Authority website provides guidance on brain donation and holds contact details for various centres which focus on this research across teh UK.

Burial or cremation

You may choose to be buried or cremated after the university has completed teaching with your body. Although not all universities 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.


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.

HM Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland regularly inspects all university anatomy departments and licensed royal colleges in Scotland to ensure they are complying with all anatomy regulations. The Inspector may be contacted via

Medical conditions

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, 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.

More information

The university anatomy departments are best placed to answer any further questions you may have. We have provided the contact details for all the universities.

Organ donation

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 always 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 can be 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.


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.


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 carried out by the university or healthcare professionals designed to improve the 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.


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 may only be 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 every effort 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 your nearest university anatomy department. By donating to the university closest to your home this will minimise any possible transportation costs to your estate. If you don’t have any family then next of kin may be a friend or a nominated person such as a carer or GP.

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.

If you have not formally completed bequest paperwork with a university, you may also include in your will or by any other written declaration the decision to donate your body to medical science. If it is a will, this would be a testified will lodged with your solicitor.  

On any will or written declaration both the intention to donate your body and your signature must be witnessed and the document 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, must also confirm that the individual understood the effect of the authorisation and was not acting under undue influence. It remains the decision of the university if they accept a bequest made only via a will or other written declaration. It is always recommended that you make contact with your chosen university directly to complete all relevant bequest paperwork and that your name is then entered onto their bequest register. 

If you have registered with a local university but then move to a different area in Scotland, you may wish to consider re-registering with the now closest university, if applicable.


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.

Research purpose

It is possible to donate your body for specific research within the wider UK. It is not possible to specify what research your body may be used for in Scotland.

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 in the rest of the UK.

Transport of body

All of the university anatomy departments have arrangements in place with a local funeral director 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.





HM Inspector of Anatomy for Scotland
Scottish Government
St Andrew's House 
Regent Road

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