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Ask the Register: donating body to science?

Q. If a person donates one’s body to science after death (anatomical donation) can they still have a rosary and funeral Mass at the time of their death even though the medical school might request the body immediately?

A. Absolutely! Your question is noble. Thank you for asking it. I believe being an anatomical donation is one of the greatest acts of charity that a person can do. Donating one’s body to medical science gives medical students opportunities to learn the systems of the body in a way they might not get from a classroom lecture, textbook or computer. Many advances in surgery and pharmaceuticals were achieved through work with anatomical donations.

I personally know several physicians and medical school professors who use anatomical donations for teaching purposes. Their work with cadavers is always respectful and mindful of the dignity of the human person. I know of many medical schools, Catholic and otherwise, that have an annual Mass celebrated for those who have donated their bodies to medical science. Families of anatomical donations are invited to attend that Mass and service.

When the medical school is finished with a donor’s body it is cremated and returned to the family for final disposition.

Now to your question, ‘when one is an anatomical donation can the family have a rosary and funeral Mass proximate to the date of the donor’s death?’  The answer is absolutely yes. If I am correct, some medical schools allow the donated bodies to be embalmed and involved in the rosary and Mass to be celebrated first with the body present. If the school asks for the body immediately after death, a rosary and Mass can be celebrated at a day and time of the family’s choosing.

If you are thinking about donating your body upon death I would recommend contacting your pastor and asking what, if anything, needs to be in writing regarding the celebration of the funeral Mass. I know he will be very helpful. At the same time, I would encourage you to contact medical schools and ask for information regarding anatomical donations. It is the ultimate gift. Great question – thanks.

This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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