How to donate your body to science

Updated April 19, 2017 - 10:46 pm

When they die, Joy and Harlan Dotson wish to donate their bodies to science, preferably a local medical school. But they don’t know how to go about it. They asked if I could help.

Before I researched the how-to part for the Las Vegas couple, I needed answers about why.

I am an organ donor, and any part of my body that can be helpful to someone else is up for grabs. Have at it. But I had never considered volunteering to become a cadaver for medical students.

“As Christians we believe this body is finished when we die. As soon as we die, the soul goes to heaven,” Harlan Dotson said.

The good news is that Joy and Harlan, members of the Upland Bible Church and Las Vegans since 2003, are healthy, and death is not imminent for either.

“What they do with the body is insignificant,” he said. “We have a clear understanding of what happens after our deaths. As soon as we die, our soul and our spirit are with Jesus Christ.”

With the why answered, I started working on the how-to, and it wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated.

The fledgling UNLV Medical School won’t have a cadaver lab. Instructors there plan to teach residents through 3-D virtual anatomy rather than a hands-on lab.

Touro University has a cadaver lab, but it obtains bodies from a school in Texas. Touro’s CEO Shelley Berkley wrote in an email: “Touro does have a cadaver lab with 50 cadavers. We do not have a direct willed body program. We receive our cadavers in August and return the ashes in May. Our students do an appreciation ceremony before the bodies are returned to the school for return to the families.”

The University of Nevada, Reno has had a donor program but only for Northern Nevada residents, which leaves the Dotson family out. Their daughter also wants to donate her body to science.

Joyce King, UNR’s program administrator for anatomical donations, said the statewide donor program ended March 21, 2016.

The program in Clark County ended because no Las Vegas mortuaries wanted to deal with the necessary steps, including transporting the bodies, particularly after the UNLV School of Medicine decided against using cadavers.

UNR’s program is going strong.

“We have a pretty good donor base and receive requests for packets on almost a daily base,” King said. UNR receives about 50 people a year who volunteer to donate their bodies to UNR’s School of Medicine.

She said some people donate for religious reasons, and some people believe their cause of death is so unusual, they might be a learning tool.

Jokesters say, “Well, I always wanted to go to medical school.”

Trying to be helpful, King suggested the Dotsons might consider donating their bodies to MERIN, a private business in Henderson, which accepts cadavers for educational purposes. The bodies donated here, stay here.

Chuck Oddo, head of the Medical Education & Research Institute of Nevada said his company receives about 90 to 100 donations from Clark and Nye counties. Anyone interested can call 702-856-2650 for an appointment.

Private companies that accept cadavers and harvest organs popped up on Google. Science Care, founded in 2000, advertises on its website,, that it is “a no-cost alternative to traditional burial.”

The Dotsons will have to check out the possibilities and make a decision about what works best for them.

I’m sticking with donating my organs for much-needed transplants and am comfortable with Nevada Donor Network, founded in 1987.

Its helpful website at shows how many people in Nevada are waiting for specific organ transplants, making my eventual donation more personal.

“It blows my mind that people do not want to think about what happens after death,” Harlan Dotson said. “Death is only a transfer of residence.”

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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