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See Inside January 2011

Donate Your Brain, Save a Buck

Hard times are making tissue donation more appealing



Courtesy of Banner Sun Health Research Institute

The Great Recession changed the way many people live—and its repercussions appear to be altering how some people choose to die.

At least two prominent tissue banks have seen an increase in the number of individuals who are interested in donating their bodies to research in exchange for a break in funeral costs.

The Banner Sun Health Research Institute near Phoenix typically receives some 1,000 inquiries every year about making donations. That number has increased by 15 percent since the beginning of the recession in 2008, and a waiting list for donors has lengthened. “People have less valuation in their 401Ks, and on top of that their home values started to take a hit, so they started to look at alternative ways [of making death arrangements],” says Brian Browne, a spokesperson for the institute, which uses the donated tissue for research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, among other disorders. Savings from for­going cremation costs can range between $1,000 and $1,500.

The Anatomy Gifts Registry, a non­profit in Glen Burnie, Md., that supplies tissue for medical research, has seen donor calls increase from 150 to 250 a month to as many as 400. “People are turning to this option because of the high cost of funerals,” says Brent Bardsley, the registry’s executive vice president, who also attributes the uptick to the downturn. Bardsley has even talked to undertakers trying to help desperate families unable to afford the full costs of a funeral. A small savings on last arrangements could trans­late into a valuable contribution for science.

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