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Body Donation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. As a donor to your program, what happens when I die? How do you know when I die, and how will my body get to your facility?

We will be contacted by your family or physician if they are aware of your wishes. After we determine acceptance to the program, transportation arrangements should be made with a funeral home by your family if beyond our 100 mile limit. Please be aware that we cannot remove your body from hospice facilities, nursing homes or private residences so a funeral home will need to be called, even if the death occurs within 100 miles of Knoxville. We will transport your body to our facility from a hospital, funeral home, or medical examiner office within 100 miles of Knoxville.

2. What happens to my body after it is donated?

Once we receive a donor, we assign an identifying number and place the donor at the Anthropology Research Facility (ARF), our outdoor laboratory for research and training. All donations go to the ARF and are allowed to decompose naturally. Once the body is skeletonized, we recover the skeletal remains and clean them. The cleaned bones are accessioned into the UTK Donated Skeletal Collection and are labeled with the identifying number. At this step, the remains are inventoried, measured and other data are collected. Once in the collection, all skeletal remains are available for study by researchers from all over the world.

3. If I fill out the paperwork to donate my body to you, can I visit the research facility first? Can I pick out where I want to be placed upon my death?

We do NOT host visitors to our research facility. This is to ensure the anonymity of the donors and protect the integrity of the research. You may make a special request regarding placement of your body after death, for instance “I do not wish to be buried or placed in water”.

4. Do I have to be “pre-registered” to donate my body?

Not necessarily;  your family can contact us after your death to make arrangements. The acceptance of unregistered individuals is considered on a case-by-case basis.

5. Can I fax my forms or submit photocopies?

You may email your completed and signed paperwork to the FAC at Please ensure that any scan of your paperwork is readable and includes the entire page. Please include your name and date of birth when sending a photograph.

6. Do I have to have the donation forms notarized?

No, we do not require notarized documents. However, if you wish to have your forms notarized, the notary can act as your witness.

7. If I decide to donate my body to the FAC after my death, should I put this in my will?

You may put this is your will but it is not necessary.  One’s will is typically read after the funeral when it would be too late to make donation arrangements. Please make sure that your family and friends know what your wishes are prior to your death.

8. What is the difference between the FAC Body Donation Program and a medical school donation program?

The FAC is an anthropology program and uses our donors for research and teaching, mainly in the field of decomposition and skeletal anatomy. We do not return any remains to a donor’s family. We do not embalm a donor’s body.

Medical schools typically embalm a body for teaching anatomy to medical students. After use, the donor’s body may be cremated and, at the request of the family, the remains may be returned.

9. Does my body need to be embalmed?

No. In fact, we require that your body NOT be embalmed. It is not required by law in most states. We are available to answer any questions your funeral home may have about transportation of unembalmed remains at or 865-974-4408.

10. Do you return remains or cremains to my family after you are finished with the research?

We do not return remains to the family because we continue to utilize the skeletal remains in research indefinitely. The donor’s skeleton is retained and curated in the UTK Donated Skeletal Collection.

11. Do you cremate the body?

No, we  do not cremate the remains as our emphasis is on skeletal studies.

12. Would there be any reason why you would not accept my body as a donation?

Yes, we reserve the right to decline any donation, including pre-registered donors, for any reason, including if our facility is at capacity. We also decline the donation of individuals who have infections such as COVID-19, HIV, any form of Hepatitis, tuberculosis, antibiotic resistant infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), or prior diseases such as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD).

However, we MAY ACCEPT pre-registered donors IF they are cremated. We simply ask that the cremains NOT be pulverized. This is a simple request made to the crematory by either the family or funeral home. A donor’s family or their estate will be financially responsible for the cremation. 

13. If I want to donate my body to the FAC, does that mean I can still donate my organs or tissues?

Yes, you may donate your organs and tissues and still remain a body donor to our program. We ask that you do not donate skeletal tissue (i.e. bone). Organ donation should occur prior to the transport if your body to our facility.

14. I want to donate my body, but my family really does not like that idea or does not agree with me. If I sign the paperwork and get it into my will, can my family prevent my final wish of body donation?

Yes, regardless of what you have arranged, signed or instructed, your next-of-kin makes the final decision. We will not fight your family for your body. We urge you to speak with your family about your desire for body donation.

15. Do I need to tell my family now that I want to donate my body?

We strongly recommend that you discuss your wishes with your family. If you do not tell them, they may not have any idea of your wishes. This may result in a traditional funeral, burial, or cremation of your body rather than donation.

16. I like the idea of donating my body, but cannot decide what I want to do. Can I make a monetary donation?

Yes, we gladly accept financial donations and they are a tremendous help to our program. Please click here to make a financial contribution.

I have always wanted to be left out in the woods to decompose naturally. Do you honor any special requests for the placement of my body? Or any kind of special request regarding the use of my body?

We will attempt to honor any special requests within reason. This may be limited by the particular research requirements ongoing at the time of donation. We put all requests on file so that they are known to us when we receive a body.

18. How much longer will you be accepting body donations?

We do not anticipate a time where we will no longer be accepting body donations. However, our needs for body donations are dependent upon our research and training activities at a given time.

19. Do you provide any payment to my family when I donate my body? Do I get paid for donating my body?

We do not provide any payment to you or the family for your body donation.

20. How much does it cost to donate my body to you program?

The FAC does not charge for body donations. The only expense may be as a result of a funeral home storing or transporting your body to our facility if you are more than 100 miles from Knoxville, outside the state of Tennessee, or if you are at a private residence or hospice.

21. I live in a state other than Tennessee but I would like to donate my body to your facility. Do you take out-of-state donations?

Yes, out-of-state- donations are accepted. Your body must transported to us by a funeral home or mortuary transport company. Arrangements must be made by your family or estate executor. We strongly encourage you to make pre-arrangements with a local funeral home for the transportation of your remains prior to your death.

22. Can I visit a family member who has donated their body to your facility?

Once your loved one’s skeletal remains are accessioned into the UTK Donated Skeletal Collection, you may visit their remains. A visit to the outdoor research facility is not permitted. On average, donors are available for visitation approximately three years after their death.

23. How do I contact you in order to visit the remains of a family member?

In order to visit a family member, you should contact us at We will provide you with the status of your family member and make arrangements for your visitation.

24. I am trying to make arrangements for a family member to donate to your program. Who do I call?

You will need to contact the Forensic Anthropology Center directly in order to make arrangements for a donation (865-806-5106). You must complete There are separate forms for the donation of a deceased individuals if we are able to accept them.