Every state has adopted some form of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which governs how a person may donate body parts upon death. Some states have adopted the original version of the Act enacted in 1968, while others have adopted the Revised Act of 1987.

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act

The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1968 provides that any person over the age of 18 and with a sound mind may consent to give all or part of his/her body for the purposes allowed under the Act. In 1987, the Act was revised to provide that the donor may:

  • Make an anatomical gift for any purposes allowed under the Act
  • Make an anatomical gift for one or more specific purposes allowed under the Act
  • Refuse to make an anatomical gift under any circumstance.

Who Can Decide to Donate Body Parts?

If the deceased did not make an irrevocable refusal to make an anatomical gift during his/her life, then a member in the following classes, ranked according to their priority, may make a gift of all or part of the decedent’s body for the authorized uses under the Act:

  • The spouse of the decedent
  • An adult son or daughter of the decedent
  • A parent of the decedent
  • An adult brother or sister of the decedent
  • A grandparent of the decedent
  • A guardian of the decedent at the time of his/her death

There are several exceptions where a member in the above classes may not make an anatomical gift:

  • If a person in a prior class is available to make the anatomical gift at the time of death.
  • The person proposing to make the anatomical gift knows the decedent would not have wanted to make the gift.
  • The person proposing to make the anatomical gift knows someone in his/her class or prior classes will object to the gift.
  • A member in the same class or prior classes actually objects to the anatomical gift before the procedure to extract the body part has commenced and that the person performing the extraction knows of the objection.

What Are the Authorized Uses for Body Parts?

The authorized uses include a donation to:

  • A hospital, physician, surgeon, or procurement organization for transplantation, therapy, medical or dental education, research, or advancement of medical or dental science.
  • An accredited medical or dental school, college, or university for education, research, or advancement of medical or dental science.
  • A designated individual for transplantation or therapy needed by that individual.
  • If the donor does not specify a person to receive his/her body parts, then the parts may be received by any hospital.

How Is the Gift Made?

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.

How Is the Gift Revoked?

Under the 1987 revision of the 1968 Act, an anatomical gift that is not made in a will can be revoked by:

  • A signed document
  • An oral statement in the presence of two witnesses
  • Any form of communication during a terminal illness or injury with a doctor or surgeon
  • Delivery of a signed revocation statement to the intended recipient

For a gift that is made in a will, its revocation is governed by laws that concern modifying a will.

The method of revoking an anatomical gift that was made under the 1968 Act is similar to revoking a gift made in a will, but it generally requires communication of the revocation to the intended recipient as well if that recipient has been designated by the time of the revocation. If no recipient has been designated, then the gift may be revoked by the destroying, canceling, or mutilating the gift document and all executed copies of it.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you wish to donate your body for medical or research use upon your death, an estate lawyer will be able to help you draft a gift document tailored to your needs. If you are involved with in a dispute over donation of a relative’s body parts, an attorney may be able to help you keep control over the body of your deceased loved one.