The federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) contains specific rules and procedures for how a person may donate their body parts (make an anatomical gift) upon death. This law is not binding on the states. Rather, the law serves as a template states can use to develop their own laws on body part donation. 

All 50 states have adopted some version of the Uniform Anatomical GIft Act. State laws regulate who may donate body parts, and for what purposes individuals may donate body parts. Laws may vary between states, so be sure to check your local laws before you start the process.

Who Can Donate a Body Part?

Most states have adopted some form of the most current version of the Uniform Anatomical GIft Act, which was last amended in 2006. Under the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the following people may make an anatomical gift:

  • Adults;
  • Emancipated minors;
  • Minors who are authorized under state law to apply for a driver’s license
    • To be donors, minors must be at least as old as the youngest age at which a state resident may apply for a driver’s license. 
  • An agent of the donor, unless a power of attorney for health care or other record prohibits the agent from making an anatomical gift; and
  • A parent of the donor, if the donor is an unemancipated minor, or the donor’s guardian.

What Can You Do with a Donated Body Part?

Under the 2006 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, donations may be made for the following purposes:

  • Transplantation;
  • Therapy;
  • Research; and/or
  • Education.

How Does a Person Consent for Body Part Donation?

Under the 2006 UAGA, individuals may consent to organ donation by:

  • Selecting the status of “organ donor” on a driver’s license;
  • Verbally expressing a wish to donate; and/or
  • Including a provision consenting to organ donation in a will or advanced directive (i.e., “living will.”).

Who Can Receive a Body Part?

Under the 2006 UAGA, the following persons named in a document of gift (i.e., donor card, means a donor card or other record, such as a will) used to make an anatomical gift) may receive an anatomical gift:

  • A hospital; 
  • Accredited medical school, dental school, college, or university; 
  • Organ procurement organization; 
  • Other appropriate person, for research or education; and/or
  • An individual designated by the person making the anatomical gift if the individual is the recipient of the part.

Frequently, a donor makes a gift of one or more specific body parts. The document of gift sometimes specifies the purpose of the gift, but does not name a specific recipient. In such instances, the following rules apply:

  1. If the part is an eye and the gift is for the purpose of transplantation or therapy, then the gift passes to the appropriate eye bank.
  2. If the part is tissue and the gift is for the purpose of transplantation or therapy, then the gift passes to the appropriate tissue bank.
  3. If the part is an organ and the gift is for the purpose of transplantation or therapy, then the gift passes to the appropriate organ procurement organization as custodian of the organ.

Who May Consent to Organ Donation on Behalf of a Deceased Individual?

If an individual has not made a document of gift during life, then the 2006 UAGA presumes (makes a presumption) of intent to donate organs, unless an individual has indicated refusal to donate in a signed document. States are not required to adopt the UAGA presumption of intent to donate organs.

Under the 2006 UAGA, if a person has neither expressed a preference for or against donation, the following people may consent to donation on behalf of that individual when they die:

  • Decedent’s spouse;
  • Decedent’s adult children;
  • Decedent’s parents;
  • Decedent’s adult siblings;
  • Decedent’s grandparents; or
  • Decedent’s guardian at the time of death.

How Do You Donate a Body Part After You Die?

An anatomical gift may be made only in a written document signed by the donor. If the donor cannot sign, the gift document must be signed by another individual on the donor’s behalf and by two witnesses, all of whom have signed at the direction and in the presence of the donor and of each other, and state that it has been so signed. A gift may also be made under these provisions via a will.

Can You Change Your Mind About Donating a Body Part?

You may revoke a decision to donate by contacting the agency (i.e., DMV, or donor registry) with which you registered as a donor. You may request that you be removed as a candidate for donation. Donor registries may require that a revocation be in a signed writing. If you are a candidate for donation at the time of death, your family cannot revoke your decision.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Want to Donate a Body Part?

If you wish to donate one or more body parts upon your death by using a will or other legal document, then you should consult an estate lawyer. This lawyer can assist you in drafting a will or advanced directive, that embodies your wishes regarding organ donation. The lawyer may also assist you if you are involved in a dispute regarding who is the proper and valid beneficiary of an anatomical gift.