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Human Bequest Program

Donating your body after death not only has great benefits for society but gives you, the donor, the knowledge that, even after death, you will continue to contribute to the education of hundreds of future health professionals.

JCU's Human Bequest Program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals who wish to donate their bodies. The program plays an essential role in training the healthcare practitioners of tomorrow, as well as providing scientists, clinicians and surgeons with the requisite knowledge and tools to further advance modern surgery and treatment programs.

Those considering registering for the JCU program should know that the need is great, consequently your gift will be significant and your generosity valued.

Purpose of the JCU Bequest Program

The Discipline of Anatomy, in the Division of Tropical Health and Medicine at JCU, runs a donor bequest program to assist in the teaching of the anatomical sciences to North Queensland’s future doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, nurses, pharmacists, sports scientists and practitioners, and research scientists. Most donations are primarily used for teaching and will be subject to dissection and examination within the Discipline of Anatomy. Some donations however, are used specifically for surgical and medical research.

The use of human bodies for teaching and research is strictly governed by Government legislation, in particular the Queensland Health Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1979 and Transplantation and Anatomy Regulation 2017.

Respect for those who have donated their body to the JCU Human Bequest Program is maintained at all times. The contribution that donors have made to education and science is fully acknowledged. The teaching facilities are situated within a restricted area, with access limited to authorised staff and students.

Donations of whole bodies are accepted from within a 400 km radius of Townsville as long as they are received by JCU within the required time frame. While prospective donors need to be over 18, there is no upper age limit.

The following conditions may prevent the university from accepting a donor:

  • Distance and late notification of death
  • Post mortem examination or coroner’s inquiry
  • Physical size and condition of the body
  • Storage limitations at the university.
  • Certain infectious diseases

List of conditions for acceptance into the program:

  1. Circumstances that may prevent us from accepting a bequest donation include: Time of notification of death or distance from James Cook University, Townsville. If we are not notified within 24 hours of death or able to obtain the body within 24 hours of death it may be impossible to embalm the body properly due to the natural deterioration processes that can affect a body and its parts.
  2. The death of a donor requires a post mortem or a Coroner’s inquiry. For example, suspicious circumstances, death by accident, or whenever a medical practitioner cannot supply a death certificate.
  3. If the deceased has contracted a contagious disease prior to death that may pose a health hazard to staff and students, or if the deceased has suffered any of the conditions listed on the next page.
  4. Recent surgical procedures or any other situation that results in the deceased body not being whole and that may prevent embalming.
  5. When the donor has suffered from severe vascular disease that clogs the arteries of the body and makes it impossible to embalm the body properly.
  6. The Human Bequest Program at James Cook University is bound by operational restrictions including periods of non-acceptance.
  7. Circumstances that occur beyond our control that make it impossible to embalm the body.

Although donors may have been in good health at the time of their bequest, with the passing of time or for reasons beyond their control, conditions may develop that prevent us honouring their bequest.

In circumstances where it is not possible to accept an offer, the next-of-kin or executor of the estate will become responsible for the funeral arrangements of the deceased. No financial obligation is accepted by the University in these circumstances.

We would like to emphasise that we do everything within our power to honour bequests. However, it is important to explain these circumstances ahead of time as we do not wish to cause any family unnecessary or unexpected grief.

Lists of diseases that may affect acceptance into the Human Bequest Program:

  • AIDS and HIV
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Brucellosis
  • Cholera
  • Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Diphtheria
  • Ebola Virus Disease
  • Encephalitis
  • Hepatitis
  • Hydatid Disease
  • Legionnaire’s Disease
  • Leprosy Leptospirosis
  • Malaria
  • Marburg Disease
  • Meningococcal Infections
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Multiple drug resistant infections
  • Obesity or severe emaciation
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Plague (Yersinia infection)
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Q Fever
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus
  • Trachoma
  • Tuberculosis (all forms)
  • Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fever
  • Typhus
  • Yellow Fever

At the time of death, the next-of-kin should notify the Human Bequest Coordinator by telephone as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. Once the Human Bequest Coordinator has completed the necessary checks and certified the cause of death, a decision is made on whether the bequest can be accepted. If the university decides to accept the bequest, the Human Bequest Coordinator will make arrangements for the body to be transported by a professional funeral director to the university, where it will be embalmed to preserve the tissues and prevent deterioration prior to use. At this time, the family can arrange and pay for a memorial service if they wish to do so.

If, for whatever reason, a bequest cannot be accepted, the family is advised to make private funeral arrangements. No financial obligation is accepted by JCU in these circumstances.

Once the initial formalities have been concluded, there is usually no further communication with the family or executors until notification of the date and time of the memorial service.

JCU will cover the costs of the transport, cremation and disposal of the bequest; however, any donation that an individual wishes to include in their will would be gratefully received and acknowledged.

At the end of the period of examination, the body is cremated. Selected parts may be retained indefinitely for continuing teaching or research purposes.

An official thanksgiving service is held every three years to commemorate those who have donated their body to medical education and science. Relatives and friends of donors, as well as students and staff of the Division of Tropical Health and Medicine, are invited to attend these ceremonies.

Individuals who are interested in registering for the JCU Human Bequest Program can contact the Human Bequest Coordinator or download the relevant forms (see below). Once the donor and next-of-kin are fully aware of the process, they should complete the forms and return them to the university.

A statement such as ‘I wish, if circumstances at the time permit, to bequeath my body after death for the purposes of teaching and research under the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1979 and direct that it be offered to the Discipline of Anatomy at James Cook University’, can be included in the will. It cannot make the bequest binding should a close family member object; even if the donor has completed the Human Bequest Consent Form and lodged a copy with their will. For this reason, it is suggested that all potential donors discuss their intentions with their family to ensure that no objections are raised at the time of death.

Once registered, the prospective donor will then receive a letter of registration and a donor card for themselves and their next-of-kin to keep in their purse of wallet.

Further information

Download the Human Bequest Information Pack

For more information, contact:

The Human Bequest Coordinator
Discipline of Anatomy
College of Medicine and Dentistry
Division of Tropical Health and Medicine
James Cook University
Townsville QLD 4811

Phone: (07) 4781 5022
An answering service will be available outside of business hours