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Frequently Asked Questions 
Whole Body Donation

Thank you for considering donation to the Humanity Gifts Registry of Pennsylvania. Please see the following frequently asked questions for details about the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Human Anatomy program:

What is the Humanity Gifts Registry of Pennsylvania?

The Humanity Gifts Registry (HGR) is a nonprofit agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerned primarily with the receipt and distribution of bodies donated to all medical and dental schools in the state for teaching purposes. The Registry, formerly called the Anatomical Board, has been in existence since 1883.

Is there a need for body donations?

Yes. The need for whole body donations is great and will be further increased by the demand for more doctors, dentists, nurses and other health care practitioners.

How do I donate my body directly to PCOM?

In Pennsylvania all donations must be made to the Humanity Gift Registry of Pennsylvania. We cannot accept donations directly to PCOM.

If you wish to have your body benefit the human anatomy program at PCOM, you must make your request with the Humanity Gift Registry. When completing the donor registration form, please write in: “I would like to designate Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine for this donation.”

I live locally, will students know my identity?

Part of working with HGR ensures that a donor’s identity remains anonymous. Donors’ identities remain strictly confidential.

If my body is donated to PCOM, who will benefit from it?

At PCOM we have a number of programs that will benefit from your donation. Programs that will benefit include, but are not limited to:

  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Physician Assistant
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Forensic Medicine
  • University of the Sciences Physical Therapy program
  • PCOM Residency Programs

Along with different academic programs, there are also many academic related clubs on campus who wish to further their education such as Surgery Club, Neurosurgery Club, Emergency Medicine Club, etc. We also host many outreach workshops which benefit surrounding high school and college students wishing to pursue a career in medicine.

What costs are associated with a donation?

HGR pays $100 toward the cost of transporting a body from the place of death, by a licensed funeral director, to a medical teaching institution. If transportation costs exceed $100, those costs fall on to the responsibility of the next of kin or the estate.

Costs associated with embalming and cremation are covered by PCOM.

How long will it take until my remains are returned to my family?

Anatomical studies take up to two years to be completed. Cremation will occur within one month following the completion of the anatomical studies. Please note, due to the COVID pandemic, these timelines may increase by a year.

What happens to the ashes and/or cremains of the cremated body?

Upon completion of studies, remains will be transported to Ivy Hill Cemetery where they will be cremated and the ashes interred in an established cemetery in Philadelphia. If a family wishes to have ashes returned for a private burial, special arrangements must be made through the Humanity Gifts Registry.

How do I receive the ashes of my loved one from PCOM?

HGR will be notified by PCOM once ashes are available to be returned to families. The Registry will then notify the next of kin in writing. There are two ways PCOM can return remains: 

  • Next of kin may come directly to the College and pick up remains.
  • If next of kin cannot get to the College, due to geographical location or any other reason, ashes may be sent through the United States Postal Service at no charge. A USPS tracking number will be provided to the email or phone number provided on the consent form. A member of the College will also be tracking the package to ensure it arrives safely.

When ashes are returned, they will arrive in a plastic rectangular urn. You will also receive two internment certificates, which will be given to a burial site if you choose this route. If you would like further information on what to expect, contact Sara Cooney at 215-871-6447.

Consider reading "What to Expect When You Receive Cremation Ashes" by Jerri Haaven who gives an in depth look on what to expect in these circumstances.

Is this program the same as organ donation?

No, bodies donated to PCOM through the HGR are only used for whole body education and research. If you wish to donate tissue or organs for transplants, please contact Gift of Life or Science Care.

Does PCOM conduct a memorial service for the donors?

At the beginning and end of each human anatomy course, faculty and students hold a moment of silence in order to remember and thank each individual who generously donated their body.

There is also a Celebration of Remembrance Ceremony, held once per year by the Humanity Gift Registry. Family members and friends are invited to this ceremony to remember and celebrate the life of their loved ones. Students who benefited from these donations will also attend and participate in the ceremony.