Following her death, the patient's family contacted the local teaching hospital to make the necessary arrangements. Unfortunately, the statutory notification formalities required by the Human Tissue Act 2004 had not been observed and the hospital was unable to accept the body. The relatives were distressed about their inability to comply with the patient's dying wish.
The GP wrote to the MDU asking for help in responding to the complaint.
The MDU advised the member that since 2004, anyone wishing to leave their body to medical science has to fill in a form supplied by the institution to which they wish to donate. This area of law is governed by the Human Tissue Act 2004, which replaced the Anatomy Act 1984, the Human Transplants Act 1989 and the Human Tissue Act 1961 and applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is separate legislation in Scotland contained within the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006.
The adviser explained that consent is the cornerstone of this legislation and the activities which require consent are defined in the Act. One such activity is 'anatomical examination' for teaching, studying or research into the gross structure of the human body. For anatomical examination or public display, the Act requires the witnessed, written consent of the donor.
Consent, therefore, must be provided before death and cannot be given by anyone else following the death of the person whose body is to be donated. Carrying out activities covered by the Act without appropriate consent carries penalties ranging from a fine to three years' imprisonment.
A patient wishing to donate his or her body to medical science must obtain a consent form from their chosen institution and complete and sign it before death. A copy should be kept safely with the person's will.
The MDU adviser added that the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) is responsible for licensing and inspecting establishments which use donated bodies for teaching purposes. The HTA website provides helpful advice for prospective donors.
Patients who inform their doctor of their wish to donate their body should be referred to this site for information on how to comply with the consent procedures for their chosen anatomy establishment or medical school.
This guidance was correct at publication 17/12/2010. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.