Donate Your Body to Science or a Body Farm?

by Kosmo on 2010-05-1618

I hate the idea that a lot of money may be spent on my funeral when I give up the fight for immortality and allow the grim reaper to collect his bounty. Thousands of dollars for a fancy box that gets viewed for a few hours and then gets tossed into the ground and covered with dirt? That’s just crazy. Throw me in a cheap wooden box and use the money for something else. College for the kids, a vacation to Hawaii, a ton of gum balls. It really doesn’t matter — anything other than a coffin. A used packing crate would be just fine. If it needs to look nice, spend a few bucks on a nice looking cloth to drape over it.

In the perfect world, my body would just get tossed into a hole and become mulch. Personally, I believe that the physical body is merely a temporary vessel for the soul. What happens to it after I die isn’t something I really care about.

Lately, I have been kicking around an idea that just might let me have my body become mulch. I am leaning toward donating my body to science. Not to medical science, though — to forensic science instead. I am interested in donating my body to a body farm.

donate your body to science, body farm

Donate Your Body to Science or a Body Farm?

What is a body farm? No, Dr. Frankenstein, it is not a place where “people seeds” are planted and bodies are harvested at a later date (although that does sound rather interesting). A body farm is where scientists study the decomposition of the human body. Yes, in contrast to morticians who attempt to halt the decay of the body, these scientists intentionally allow the bodies to decay for the purposes of their studies.

Why? The main reasons are for determining cause of death and identification of remains. In some cases, bodies are found with mysterious markings. Sometimes the marks are left by unusual weapons. At other times, a more typical weapon was used, but the decomposition of the body has altered the mark and made it unidentifiable. Having some corpses at their disposal allows forensic scientists to attempt to recreate these markings to determine what the murder weapon may have been.

The body farms are very useful in helping to identify the time of death. When a fresh body is discovered, it is relatively straightforward to determine time of death. Bodies cool at a specific rate, although this is affected by the temperature of the surrounding area.

When decomposed bodies are found, this is much more difficult. Bodies can decompose at wildly different rates. The heat and humidity, among other factors, can affect the rate of decay. Even buried bodies decay at different rates, depending on the composition of the soil.

Why the interest in time of death? It helps to identify the victim. You often hear of people being identified by dental records. However, this isn’t a matter of law enforcement submitting records to some magical dental record database and getting a blind hit. They actually need to suspect that the body is a particular person, and then submit the records to that person’s dentist for the purposes of a positive identification. When law enforcement can narrow the window for the time of death, it allows them to focus their investigation on people who were reported as missing during that timeframe. This makes the job of law enforcement much easier, as they’ll have to bark up fewer wrong trees during the course of trying to identify the body.

You may be wondering why I would be interested in making a donation to a body farm. I happen to have a rather deep interest in crime and forensic science. Many of the books on my bookshelf would give a lot of people some rather serious nightmares. I like the idea of having my body help law enforcement solve crimes after my death.

If you’re interested in helping forensic science and saving a few bucks on death expenses in the process, consider donating your body to a body farm! Note: this does not preclude you from donating your organs first.

The Casual Observer

Here’s a departure from the usual fare. The following guest post is from Kosmo, an aspiring novelist, vehement opponent of the designated hitter, student of true crime who plays the keyboard for The Casual Observer – an eclectic, team-written web magazine. He suggests a practical alternative to the cheapest funeral: donate your body to science or a body farm.

Copyright © 2010 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Hope to Prosper May 16, 2010 at 9:51 pm


I work for a medical device company and we often use cadavers for surgery training. My understanding is that most of our cadavers come from India. It is kind of spooky seeing them in the building. But, they are invaluable for our company. I hope their families get some money for their sacrifice. May 17, 2010 at 3:58 am

While I understand the need for this, I do not think it is for me. Maybe being an organ donor is a better fit for some people as well.

Rob Bennett May 17, 2010 at 6:49 am

I won’t donate my body. I intend to be making good use of it in the next life (you may laugh if you like, but that’s the plan all the same).

I think Kosmo is right on re the designated hitter rule.


Mike May 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

Thanks for adding humor to what is often hard to even talk about. But a lot of good points to consider. Would I rather spend 5,000 on a casket or feed a family in India for a year?

Good points to consider…Mike

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer May 17, 2010 at 7:19 am

@ Rob – Hey, who can say that you’re wrong? I try to refrain from criticizing people’s opinions of the afterlife because there’s really not a lot of empirical evidence on either side.

@ Hope to Prosper – Hmm. I don’t have an answer for you there. Maybe just more of a willingness to donate bodies to medical science? I don’t have the numbers for Americans, but I personally have never known anyone that has donated their body to science.

theplumber May 17, 2010 at 8:37 am

After my father died this year, I put a lot of thought into what would I want to be done with my body…donate it, burn it, bury it. Donating it so far seems the most reasonable action.

Squeaky May 17, 2010 at 11:13 am

Another Kosmo home run. Educational and entertaining at the same time. If only my high school text books (or college for that matter) had been influenced by you.

I hadn’t heard of Body Farms prior to Kosmo’s writing. A very interesting topic and it does make one think about what to do. I am still leaning toward donating organs followed by cremation but this does add another alternative.

@ Hope to prosper — I had no idea about the India residents and this endeavor. I’m curious now and will need to learn more about it. Hmmmmm.


Squeaky May 17, 2010 at 11:19 am

So is there where the “Warning: Graphic content” sign comes up? -SVB

Oh what Google finds for us. Here is a video of a Body Farm. They definitely take it easy on us with the pics, but some will still find it disturbing.

Silicon Valley Blogger May 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

The things you learn on the Internet!

I have some things in common with Kosmo, one of which is the fascination with forensic science and whatever else triggers my morbid curiosity. I have to thank him for an interesting article that should give us food for thought. What to do about yourself after you pass on is a topic a lot of us don’t want to dwell on (much like taxes, estate planning and insurance, at least for me!), but should still be addressed earlier rather than later (proactively rather than reactively) or you’ll be scrambling to pay that funeral bill when you least expect it.

It’s a tough subject to think of, certainly. My family, because of our own traditions, have by default, worked out our own arrangements already. But it’s a tricky matter if you’re an immigrant (where do you go when you consider two countries as “home”?).

Stella May 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I’m personally fine with doctors harvesting anything of use from my body for organ donation, but for some reason get skeeved at the thought of people poking and prodding at me for research. (I’m dead, I know–what should I care?) My wish: take out anything useful, cremate the rest and throw the ashes in my ex-boss’ face.

Just kidding about that last part…

Credit Girl May 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Lol ! I don’t get to read about this too often! It’s interesting ! thanks for changing it up !

Kim @ Money and Risk May 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

One of the things that people who chose to donate their bodies are not aware of is the large multi-billion dollar business in body parts. I’ve always automatically put the donor dot on my driver’s license each renewal until I became aware that my body may not go to help people on surgery list but are sold in totality for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I now specify what service will have access to my body as part of my living will so that no one will profit from selling my body versus my helping people who need organ donors, etc..

Miss Sapphire May 18, 2010 at 7:14 am

To be honest, I don’t agree with this idea that doctors cut me into pieces to do different experiments…

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer May 18, 2010 at 7:57 am

@ Kim – I definitely agree that you should do some due diligence, whether you’re donating organs, your body to medical science, or your body to a body farm. All 4 of the active body farms are affiliated with universities – there aren’t any private ones.

Well, none that are being used for research, anyway.

For those who think that this “isn’t for me”. I definitely respect your view on this. In fact, not long ago, I agreed with you. I wasn’t even a blood donor until a few years ago. The idea of my blood in someone else’s body was creepy. Then Hurricane Katrina happened. The images were overwhelming, and I made an effort to get past my own reservations. I’ve donated a gallon now (not all at once; just a bit at a time), and hope to get back into the swing of things soon (young kids can wreak havoc on a schedule, and some minor issues with iron levels made me unsuitable for a while). I definitely understand the “ick” factor, though 🙂

Miss Platnum May 24, 2010 at 1:55 am

I find it reasonable to donate your body for experiments. But even if this is my point of view, I’m not sure that I would do this. I would rather rest in peace next to my family…

ConsumerMiser May 24, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Enjoyed the article, and even though you would not be alive when your boy is donated to science or the body farm, I have a problem with dealing with bodies with little respect for the person that used to be in the body. The donated body is a piece of meat to be carved up or used how the scientist, doctor, or investigator sees fit, with little regard to the fact that the body was a living being. Its not for me, although I struggle with the fact that I would like to help society and research even in death. I do have an organ donor card which seems different from this body farm concept. Maybe donating one’s organs to save the life of another is a better option?

Funeral Home Columbia SC November 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm

From a funeral directors perspective, it is more difficult to embalm a prepare a body after an autopsy or an organs removal. I know, this article points out using the body donation instead of a traditional funeral but that’s not always the case. Some people have donated their organs but previously requested a regular funeral.

Just my .02

kim rufus taylor November 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I think it’s ridiculous to spend $1000’s of dollars on a metal box & headstone so people can come pay their respects after you’re dead. But cemeteries do make a nice green resting place.

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