FAQs

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What is body donation?

Body donation is the donation of the human body after death, for the purposes of research or education. Donations play an integral part in advancing medical science through the study of the human body. It is a meaningful alternative to a traditional funeral or cremation, which may cost upwards of several thousand dollars.

What are the costs associated with donation?

Once an individual has registered with our program, we will cover all expenses related to the donation process. This includes death certificate processing, cremation, and the return of partial cremated remains to the next of kin. We do not cover any expenses unrelated to the donation.

Where will my donation go?

The anatomical gifts entrusted to us through your donation will be used wherever there is the greatest potential for discovery, and may be distributed to non-profit and for-profit institutions, in the United States and internationally.

In order to ensure the dignity and lasting impact of your gift, tissues and organs are only distributed to recognized and well-respected institutions that have undergone a strict verification and approval process with Aeternitas Life.

How do I become a donor?

Prospective donors will complete an authorization for donation form with Aeternitas Life. Additional consent will be given to authorize the cremation of the body after donation. A copy of your driver license or other ID will be necessary to complete the authorization. Once the proper documentation has been received by us, we will contact you to confirm your acceptance.

Have a conversation with your family. It is important to inform everyone in your family of your commitment to donate with Aeternitas Life. It is your family who will be responsible for contacting us at the time of death so your donation can proceed in a timely manner. If your wishes are unknown, your pledge may go unfulfilled. Donations that are delayed will also negatively impact the efficacy and quantity of the gifts that can be used for research or education.

What is the criteria to become a donor?

Aeternitas Life currently accepts registrations for body donation in major counties across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. Individuals who register with Aeternitas Life but pass away outside of the states in the service area cannot be accepted. In order to protect the safety of medical personnel, individuals with HIV, hepatitis B or C, tuberculosis, prion disease, hepatic disease, or antibiotic-resistance viral or bacterial infection cannot be accepted. Individuals with extensive surgeries or amputations may not be accepted. Furthermore, any individual who registers with Aeternitas Life but contracts an infectious, contagious, communicable or dangerous disease(s) before passing away cannot be accepted. In most cases, donations can be accepted up to a week after an individual has passed away.

Aeternitas Life guarantees acceptance for preregistered individuals that have a proportionate height-weight ratio (BMI) and meet the criteria listed in the Terms and Conditions for Anatomical Donation and Cremation. We cannot guarantee acceptance for individuals who have not preregistered with our program. 

Is my use of the Death With Dignity Act (ORS 127.800) a rule-out?

No, unlike some body donation programs, we will never unfairly reject your pledge to donate on the basis of your participation in an assisted dying program.

Is the body cremated and returned to the family?

Yes, any tissues and organs that could not be used for donation will be cremated by an independent, licensed crematorium selected by Aeternitas Life. The next of kin may request the return of partial cremated remains, or choose to have 100% of the body contribute toward donation (no remains will be returned). Partial cremated remains are typically returned to an authorized recipient within six to eight weeks, but may take as long as six to twelve months depending on the use of the donation. The cremated remains that are returned will not include the remains of the tissues or organs that were recovered for research or education during the donation.

When will I receive certified copies of the death certificate?

Death certificates are issued by the vital records office in the county or state where the death occurred. This information can be found by searching the CDC Division of Vital Statistics. You can expect certified copies of the death certificate to arrive in approximately four to six weeks.

I am already a donor on my driver license, do I still need to register?

Yes, by registering with Aeternitas Life as a body donor, your tissues and organs will be used exclusively for research and education purposes. The designation on your driver license indicates that you have authorized the donation of your tissues and organs for transplantation. Unlike some body donation programs, we are able to accept tissue and organ donors on a case by case basis. Please contact us at the time of death so we may coordinate the donation with the appropriate organizations.

Can my donation benefit a specific research study?

We cannot guarantee that your donation will benefit specific research or education. The anatomical gifts received from body donors are used wherever there is the greatest need. Please be assured that we work to ensure every donation contributes to discoveries that will advance medical science for the benefit of all human beings.

Does body donation interfere with funeral arrangements?

A traditional funeral or open casket viewing is typically not possible with donation. However, every donation is different and we are able to accept donation after a funeral ceremony if certain criteria are met. Commonly, donor families will arrange for a memorial or scattering service with partial cremated remains once the donation has been completed. 

Who provides transportation and cremation for Aeternitas Life?

Aeternitas Life will arrange for transportation, cremation and death certificate processing through an independent, licensed first call provider based in the Portland Metropolitan Area. Per ORS 97.981(3), Aeternitas Life does not buy or sell anatomical gifts. Aeternitas Life is not licensed as a funeral service organization and does not directly provide any funeral services.

What is DNA preservation?

DNA preservation (also known as DNA banking) is the secure preservation and long-term storage of an individual’s unique genetic material.

Why is DNA banking important?

DNA contains valuable information about each individual, from the color of their hair, eyes and other physical traits, to their inherited health risks, medical conditions and ancestral roots. Preserving DNA allows you to capture a physical record of all of this information forever. Whether you choose to preserve DNA as a meaningful way to cherish your loved one, or for tracing hereditary health conditions in your family, DNA banking creates opportunities that would otherwise be lost forever.

Who should preserve DNA?

Anyone can preserve their DNA, but it is particularly important for families with a history of hereditary disease such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. DNA banking can take place at any time in life, but it becomes particularly urgent for elderly family members and family members who have a critical illness where DNA must be collected as soon as possible before it becomes too late.

How can banked DNA be used in the future?

DNA can be used for a wide range of genetic testing applications including disease testing, health risk analysis, identity testing, ancestry testing, personalized medicine, and many other tests as they become available in the future. The DNA stored in every capsule is ready for testing at any time. Simply give your DNA capsule directly to the DNA laboratory that will be performing your genetic testing and they will be able to use it immediately.

Why is DNA banking an important consideration when planning a funeral?

At death, the information coded in a person’s DNA begins to degrade. DNA Banking is the best option for families who wish to preserve the genetic legacy of their loved ones and also create opportunities for genetic testing if ever required by future generations to understand the source and nature of diseases within the family. DNA Preservation creates a Lasting Memorial Keepsake of Your Loved One and allows the family to celebrate life in its purest form. DNA preservation is the best option for families who are looking for a meaningful way to memorialize and remember their loved one. Unlike ashes, hair or other traditional keepsake items, DNA contains the entire genetic ‘blueprint’ of an individual. Preserving DNA gives families an opportunity to capture all this information and establish a connection that will last for generations to come.

Can DNA preservation be done after cremation or embalming?

The cremation and embalming process destroys DNA. It is critical to perform a collection prior this procedure.

How can DNA banking benefit the health of my children and future generations?

A large number of serious diseases can be traced to our genetic makeup. Our DNA collection kits are designed to collect up to 5000x more DNA than traditional collection methods such as buccal swabs, ensuring sufficient quantities of high quality DNA for running a multitude of complex genetic tests in the future. Having a clear picture of a family’s genetic history can assist future generations in understanding their health risks and allows them to take preventative measures early to mitigate the devastating effects of disease before it is too late.

How do I store banked DNA, and how long will banked DNA last inside the DNA capsule?

Your banked DNA capsule can be stored safely at room temperature. No freezing or special storage conditions are required. Banked DNA can be stored indefinitely for future use.

Who provides DNA preservation for Aeternitas Life?

Aeternitas Life will arrange for DNA preservation through an independent, licensed laboratory. Our testing laboratory meets and exceeds industry standards, with accreditations and certifications by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), and the College of American Pathologists (CAP).

How does DNA preservation work?

A sample is collected from the individual whose DNA will be preserved. The sample which is collected contains cells, and most of the cells in our body contain a full set of genetic information in the form of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). A person’s DNA represents a “genetic blueprint” and contains information about a person’s ancestry, health conditions, and traits. Preserving an individual’s DNA ensures that the genetic material is available for future genetic testing if required. At the laboratory, the DNA is extracted from the cell, then purified to remove any damaging enzymes, concentrated and preserved for long term storage at room temperature. Preserved DNA will not degrade over time and will be readily available at any time in the future for genetic testing. The preserved DNA and a DNA Banking Report which indicates the quantity and purity of the banked DNA are sent to the clients as soon as the DNA preservation is completed. The banked DNA can be stored indefinitely at room temperature.

Who has control over the DNA sample? Is my information kept private?

You have complete control over your banked DNA. Your privacy is very important to us – we do not keep any of your DNA on site nor do we share your private information with any third parties.

What is the turnaround time for DNA preservation?

The DNA capsule and DNA banking report are typically returned to an authorized recipient within two to four weeks, from the date the DNA samples are recovered and received by our laboratory.

What is brain banking?

Brain banking is the preservation of the human brain after death, for the purposes of research or education.  

What is a connectome?

A connectome is a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain, and may be thought of as its “wiring diagram”. More broadly, a connectome would include the mapping of all neural connections within an individual’s nervous system.

What is aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation?

Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC), is a brain banking technique for preserving the brain’s micro-structure over indefinite time scales.  The approach uses glutaraldehyde to rapidly stabilize the brain’s synaptic structure. The necessary cryoprotectants are delivered via perfusion, enabling preservation of brains of any size. 

What is memory preservation?

Memory preservation is the idea that chemical fixation, using methods like ASC, may be able to preserve the physical manifestation of information that encodes an individuals’s long-term memories. Clinical research and neuroscience suggests long-term memories are encoded in the nervous system as durable changes in synaptic structure.

It is known that long-term memories can durably survive a complete loss of blood flow and electrical brain activity. Memories are encoded by self-reinforcing brain structures whose molecular parts are interchangeably replaced as needed. A single memory is stored as a distributed change across an entire group of neurons. It can survive even when some of the constituent neurons are destroyed. Chemical fixation can preserve these synapse structures in great detail using the ASC method.

What is a neuron?

The neuron, or nerve cell, is the basic working unit of the brain. It is a specialized cell designed to transmit and receive information to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells. Neurons communicate with other cells via specialized connections called synapses.

What is “information-theoretic” death?

Information-theoretic death is a term sometimes used to define death by the irreversible loss of synaptic information, in a way that is permanent and independent of any future medical advances.

What is an institutional review board (IRB)?

An institutional review board (IRB), is a type of independent ethics committee that reviews the methods and techniques proposed for human research to ensure that they are ethical. 

What is Aqua cremation?

The Aqua cremation process is an environmentally friendly alternative to a traditional flame cremation. It uses water instead of fire to perform the cremation process. The scientific name for this water-based process is alkaline hydrolysis. It is the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil.  We use a combination of water flow, temperature, and alkalinity to accelerate nature’s process.

Who supports Aqua cremation?

Trusted institutions have chosen this process for bodies donated to medical science for over 20 years. Most recently, the MAYO Clinic, UCLA Medical School, and UTSW Medical School have chosen this process for their willed body programs.

Many families prefer Aqua cremation. They are grateful to have a choice, and they prefer a gentler and more respectful process versus flame-based cremation. Families appreciate receiving up to 20% more of their loved ones’ ashes, and they value the decreased environmental impact of the process. 

How does Aqua cremation work?

With alkaline hydrolysis, an individual body is gently placed in a container that is then placed in a clean, stainless steel vessel. A combination of water flow, temperature and alkalinity are used to accelerate the natural process of tissue hydrolysis.

At the end of the process, the body has been returned to its natural form, dissolved in the water (our bodies are approximately 65% water to begin with). The only solid remains are the mineral bone remains.

Does Aqua cremation use acid to dissolve a body?

No, alkaline hydrolysis uses a catalyst called alkali, which is the chemical opposite of an acid.

Are the alkalis used in Aqua cremation safe for the environment?

Yes. The water-based process is 95% water and 5% alkali. A combination of alkalis (sodium and potassium hydroxide) are used in the process to dissolve the body. The alkalis used in this process are the same alkalis used in common cosmetic products, body washes, shaving creams, and even in food preparation. At the end of the process, the chemical has been completely used and no longer remains in the water solution.

What happens to the water during Aqua cremation?

The water is returned to the ecosystem via the normal wastewater treatment facility, just as all funeral homes in the United States do during the embalming process. The alkaline hydrolysis process produces a completely sterile solution of amino acids, sugars, nutrients, salts, and soap in a water solution. These are the byproducts of natural decomposition. Some of the water can even be captured and sent to the family with the cremated remains.

Are the powdered remains safe to handle?

Yes, the  remains are 100% safe, pathogen and disease free. The ash that is returned to the family is simply bone mineral, or calcium  phosphate. The ashes will keep in an urn, or may be buried or scattered in a special place as some families choose to do. 

Does Aqua cremation interfere with funeral arrangements?

The traditional memorial ceremony and returning of the ashes remains unchanged.  In fact, families receive more ash remains from this process, on average a 20% increase. 

Why is Aqua cremation considered an environmentally friendly choice?

There are no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses or mercury to the atmosphere. It is very energy efficient – greater than 90% energy savings compared to flame cremation, with 1/10th  of the carbon footprint. Additionally, the Aqua Cremation process uses less water than a single household uses in one day.  This includes all of the water used for the process, along with the clean water rinses of the final remains and vessel. No water is wasted, it is returned to the ecosystem via the normal wastewater treatment facility process.

Can I change my mind after I register for anatomical donation?

Yes, donors who change their mind may rescind their consent for donation by completing a revocation of anatomical gift form. Per ORS 97.967(3), a revocation is effective only if it is made before the tissue and organ recovery is started. Aeternitas Life is not liable for any loss or damage resulting from a revocation made after tissue and organ recovery or from a donation made without proper legal authority on behalf of a decedent.

What do I do at the time of death?

Inform the appropriate legal and medical parties that a natural death has occurred. This may include emergency response, hospice provider, next of kin, and the person’s doctor. Contact us at 844-330-7040. We will make all arrangements for transportation from the place of death to our facility in the Portland Metropolitan Area.

Who may I contact for more information?

For your convenience, a representative is available to respond to any questions you may have regarding the donation process. Please call 844-330-7040, we’re here to help 24 hours a day. A representative will respond to electronic inquiries within twenty-four hours.


Questions?

Request our free brochure! Learn about the benefits of donating with Aeternitas Life, and how we can help your family, funeral home or hospice. We’re here to help 24 hours a day at 844-330-7040.