We're grateful for all the people who have donated their bodies to science. These donations are an indispensable aid in teaching anatomy to our medical and health sciences students. The cadaver serves as our students' first patient, teaching them respect and professionalism. Textbooks can only teach students about 80 percent of what they need to know about human anatomy. The other 20 percent is variable. That's why the body donor program is so critical for the human anatomy class.

Individuals considering donating their body can learn more by reading our frequently asked questions or contacting us at 605-677-5555. The Basic Biomedical Sciences division in Vermillion coordinates body donations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any conditions which would invalidate my donation?
Yes. Occasionally a condition may exist which would render the donor unusable for study. Morbid obesity, organ donation (with the exception of eyes), severe trauma, communicable diseases or decomposition are the main reasons why we would not accept a donation. Therefore determination of acceptance into the program can only be made at the time of death.

Can I be an organ donor and still donate my body to the medical school?
No. Removal of organs (other than the eyes) greatly reduces the usefulness of the body and therefore the Sanford School of Medicine cannot accept such a body for use in medical education studies.

If I have not signed my bequeathal form can my family still donate my body to the University of South Dakota?
A donation made by the next of kin after death has occurred will be accepted only if space allows and at the discretion of the director of the body donation program.

Can I or my next of kin revoke my donation?
Yes. A donor or their next of kin may choose to revoke a donation at any time by contacting the body donation program.

What happens if the body donation program declines my donation?
If a donation is declined it is the family's obligation to make final arrangements.

Can a person be too old to donate his or her body?
No. Advanced age does not preclude donation.

Can a person be too young to donate his or her body?
Yes. The Sanford School of Medicine does not accept donors under the age of 18.

Will my family receive a report of your findings?
No. The mission of our body donation program is to support anatomical education for the University of South Dakota. Autopsies are not performed and therefore reports are not prepared.

What happens to my body once the study is completed?
Upon completion of the study, all cadavers are reduced to ash. Based upon the wishes of the family, the ashes will either be buried at Bluffview Cemetery in Vermillion or returned to the family at the expense of the estate.

Will the Medical School pay me or my family for my body?
The Uniform Anatomical Gift Law prohibits medical schools from purchasing human bodies.

What should the family do when a donor has died?
At the time of death the family should call their funeral director and advise them to contact a representative of the body donation program for instructions regarding proper preparation of the body. Failure to follow allowable preparation procedures could prevent the intended donation.

Is it necessary to employ a funeral home if I donate my body to USD?
Yes. Each body must be initially embalmed at a licensed funeral home prior to arrival at the university. The funeral home is asked to contact USD for appropriate instructions. All expenses incurred at the funeral home are the responsibility of the donor's estate.

Is it possible for my family to deliver my body to the medical school?
No. All bodies must be transported either by a licensed funeral home, a licensed funeral facility, or Sanford School of Medicine body donation program personnel. The donor's estate is responsible for the cost of transport.

Is there a cost to my family if I donate my body to the University of South Dakota?
Yes. The donor's estate is responsible for the cost of transport to the medical school and the return of ashes at the end of the study.

May a customary or traditional type of funeral service be held?
Yes. A visitation and a traditional service may be held prior to the transfer of the body to the Sanford School of Medicine.

Is it possible that my body may be transferred to another institution?
Yes. USD currently partners with South Dakota State University, Briar Cliff University, Northwestern University and Lake Area Technical Institute to provide anatomical material. Donors who desire not to be transferred can indicate this decision by checking the appropriate box on the donor form.

Does Sanford School of Medicine hold a memorial service for the donors?
Yes. Each year the University of South Dakota students honor donors with a memorial service to recognize those who have generously donated to medical education. Faculty, staff and students attend and participate in this service to publicly express their appreciation to the donor families. Family members will be notified of the date and time of this service.

Typically how long does a study take?
A typical study takes approximately two years.

What is meant on the donor form by a "permanent donation"?
Occasionally an organ or body part may be retained for educational purposes as long as it remains an effective teaching tool. Once the study is complete, the anatomical material is reduced to ash and buried at Bluffview Cemetery. Donors have the option of refusing a permanent donation by checking the appropriate box on the donor form.