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Everything You Need to Know About Body Donation

Every day, organ and tissue donation gives the gift of life, sight and health. According to statistics, 115,000 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving transplant and nearly 4,000 live right here in New Jersey. Nationwide, 20 people die each day waiting on this list.

For this reason, and as part of your legacy, you can request that all or part of your body be donated as a life-giving gift or to medical science. Depending on your circumstances and your wishes, you may choose to donate your whole body, organs, tissue and/or bones to help as many people as possible.

Whole Body Donation

Whole body donation is when your entire body is donated to scientific research, medical training or mortuary science training. This type of donation provides medical students the opportunity to learn more about anatomy and disease. Body donations help researchers investigate how diseases and medical conditions start and progress, determine how a condition could have been prevented or cured and work toward improving medical technologies. Body donation also helps mortuary science schools with research and teaching embalming.

When considering donating your body to medical or mortuary science, you are encouraged to make arrangements with your choice of donation institution in advance. There is limited, if any, out-of-pocket costs associated with the donation, and your cremated ashes may be returned to your family upon request after a specified period of time.

Final disposition of your body, typically cremation, is conducted by the institution with which you make arrangements for the donation. Whole body donation, however, does not prevent your family from planning a funeral, gathering or memorial service. Find a local Funeral Matters provider to discuss your options.

How to Register for Whole Body Donation 

In New Jersey, there are two public institutions that accept donations. Individuals who would like to register to become a whole body donor can do so by contacting the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Anatomical Association at 732.235.3249 or the Mercer County Community College-Funeral Service Donor Program at 609.570.3472 or 3474 (weekends or after hours 609.528.7300).

Organ & Tissue Donation

Organ and tissue donation differs from whole body donation because it focuses on recovering organs and tissues to gift to persons on the transplant waiting list. A single organ donor may save up to eight people and a single tissue donor may enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

The NJ Sharing Network based in New Providence, NJ, and the Gift of Life Donor Program headquartered in Philadelphia are both organ procurement organizations responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue in New Jersey. Both are members of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Donated organs and tissues are removed by skilled medical professionals during a sterile surgical procedure. As with whole body donation, organ and tissue donation does not prevent your family from planning a funeral, gathering or memorial service. The cause and circumstances of your death, however, may have an impact on the timing of any funeral arrangements. You are encouraged to speak with a local Funeral Matters provider to discuss your options.

In addition to managing donation and organ procurement activities, both organizations offer bereavement and grief counseling services to donor families, administer public and professional donor awareness education programs, organize speaking programs and distribute donor literature.

How to Register for Organ & Tissue Donation

Individuals who would like to register to become an organ and/or tissue donor can do so by contacting the NJ Sharing Network at 800.742.7365 or the Gift of Life at 1.800.366.6771.

Individuals can also register online at NJ Donate Life. You will need your driver's license and Social Security number to complete the registration process. NJ Donate Life registry authorizes the recovery of organs, eyes and tissues for transplant. It does not authorize donation for research.

If you choose to, you may be BOTH an organ and tissue donor for transplant purposes as well as a whole body donor for medical research and education. Organ donation for transplant takes first priority due to its life-saving nature.