donating body to science

Does the catholic church object to donation of body to a university for research? The body is taken upon death, then cremated after some time,then buried in a group crematory.

Bodies are burned in crematories, not buried in them.

It’s not a problem as long as the body is treated with respect. For the record, it’s not always a group burial, some universities offer options:

You might be inspired by this article.…ald/HH0735.pdf

For the record, I went looking specifically for the story of Peggy and Mary, for I’ve known it for a while and it has solidified my belief that there is nothing wrong in making such a gift to allow future generations of doctors to benefit.

This is not true. The Church teaches that the body is to be fully respected for it is to be restored to full health on the last day. The Church ALWAYS requests that your body be buried if possible. There are exceptions for cremation, but the Church gives examples of disease, etc. The Church also says that once cremated the ashes may NOT be scattered.

A communal ash burial would be extremely offensive to Catholic teaching. You also need to take into consideration WHAT your body will be used for. Would Christ consider it acceptable for you to be boned out and hang as a human skeleton in a classroom? What happens when your bones start to break? Do they throw your remains in the garbage? Would Christ find it acceptable to have your body used to develop drugs or procedures that would cause the death of another?

The point is that we have no control over our bodies AFTER we die so we should make very sure that we know what we expect to have done BEFORE we die. You will should state this and your family memebers should know as well. I don’t believe the church would have a problem donating organs to save the life of another. I know for sure she would have a problem with donating eggs (from a woman) for embryonic research.

Please speak your local priest about this before signing any papers.

Here is an article with the answers to most of your questions. You can use the link in the article to the National Catholic Bioethics Center for additional information:

thank you… very interesting.

i have a thoguht: what if you donate your body to science but do not specify about the eggs or sperm that could be harvested (assuming they are use-able after death??)…

Can they just take whatever they want from your body if you dont’ specify??

becaue if that is the case i definitely won’t do it…

The Church does indeed require ashes to be placed in Holy Ground, but cremation does not have to be justified nor is it an “exception”. While the Church does recommend burial, cremation is allowed without restriction. Do you have any reference for the “…examples of diesease, etc.?”

2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy;it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious. The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.93
And from the Code of Canon Law, Canon 1176 §3:
The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.

This is most likely a change in Theology after Vatican II. Prior to Vatican II the body was held as the Temple of the Lord. It was to be treated with the utmost respect. Cremation for any reason other than disease, etc. would never be considered. As Chirst’s body was risen from the dead, so too will all of us on the last day. (Hopefully going to heaven and not the other place) This meant that our bodies should not be defiled in any way. Cremation was seen as destroying the body. If done soley for vanity that it would be very offensive.

I personally still hold this view. It was the view of the church for almost two millenea. It is just another area where VII departed from Catholic Tradition. Here is the 1917 code of Canon law that pertains to cremation:

The 1917 code of canon law provided the following:

Canon 1203: “The bodies of the faithful must be buried, and cremation is reprobated. If anyone has in any manner ordered his body to be cremated, it shall be unlawful to execute his wish.”

Canon 1240.5: “Persons who have given orders for the cremation of their bodies are deprived of ecclesiastical burial, unless they have before death given some signs of repentance.”

Canon 2339: "Persons who, in violation of the prohibition of Canon 1240, dare to order or force the ecclesiastical burial (of those who are to be deprived of it) incur excommunication ipso facto; and persons who of their own accord give ecclesiastical burial to the above mentioned, incur an interdict from entering a church."

Quite the striking departure from Catholic Tradition in the 1983 code isn’t it? I wonder how this is reconciled with the entire previous history of the Church? Was the magesterium who came before wrong in their conclusions? Keep in mind that a new law cannot change and immemorial custom. Defined as lasting more than 100 years. This custom has been in effect for 2000 years. I would NOT be comfortable donating my body to “Science” unless I personally knew the doctor and how he will treat my body.

A little extra reading:

Since the 1983 Code of Canon Law allows it, I think I’ll stick with that.

I really don’t see how burning is any less respectful than allowing the body to rot away. The Church also realizes that many cities are running out of space for cemeteries. A columbarium can accommodate many more bodies than the same square footage of graves.

As for the bodies offered to our local medical school, they are cremated afterwards and either given back to the family for burial or buried with dignity in a local cemetery, with a religious service in an annual ceremony. It’s not as though their bodies are cremated and then tossed to the 4 winds.

The new code does not ALLOW it. You are assuming permisson where none exists. I think you would do well to consult a canon lawyer on this. Many liberties have been taken with new Canon laws that have never been permitted. Thinking, along the lines of “It doesn’t say no so I guess it means it’s ok” has never been the way the Church operates.

New laws are always read in the light of Tradition. When a new law does not define what the rules are (such as circumstance where cremation is allowed) we must look to what the church has always taught. The Church has always taught that cremation was reserved for times of disease, etc. To think that all of sudden it is allowed for any reason would be foolish.

Do you think that because a law does not say no means that any activity is ok?

If the law says nothing you can’t claim that it means “yes” because it doesn’t say “no”, but in the case of cremation canon law specifically says that it isn’t prohibited. It may not be the Church’s preference but she does allow it.

But becuase it is not specific, the law must be read in light of previous law and tradition. That would mean that cremation can not just be chosen over normal burial for any reason. This line of thinking is why the Church is in such flux as it is today and we are getting reforms of the reform. People do not want to see anything before VII and think it still has any influence.

What you forget my dear friend is that cremation is a discipline, not a doctrine, and therefore it can be changed, updated or reversed. Remember that the Church originally forbade cremation because many were being cremated specifically in defiance (i.e. 'O.K, God, see if you can resurrect this") to the teaching of the resurrection.

I am not sure the Code change had anything to do with Vatican 2, so if someone knows for sure I would appreciate finding out.

As to magesterium coming to the wrong conclusion, during the 1983 update, was it not the magesterium which changed the code? Is the code not applicable to all the Latin Church? I am sorry, but you can’t pick and choose which canons from which code you want to follow.

The Church allows cremation and it is not wrong, sinful or against any teaching.

You are free to hold to whatever view you want, and I respect your right to disagree with the current teaching of the Church, however you cannot present your opinion as irrefutable fact in light of the Catechism and Code.

Actually, canon law theory (and canons themselves) require that when a canon is silent on the specifics, previous Church tradition and law must be consulted. To ignore previous teaching and law and say “Well it doesn’t say where or how or when; ergo it is allowed in all cases where it doesn’t forbid it” is not in keeping with Church law or tradition.

Please explain to me how you reconcile this?

Canon 20 (1983 code): “A later law abrogates, or derogates, an earlier law if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it, or completely reorders the entire matter of the earlier law.”

No law in the 1983 code abrogates or derogates from the 1917 prohibitions against cremation or the Church’s 1926 condemnation of cremation. CIC 1176.3 earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial, and thus prohibits cremation unless the reasons for choosing cremation are not contrary to the Christian faith. Note that CIC 1176.3 is examining the motives of the one requesting cremation. The Church has always held that cremation is permissible only in emergency situations like war and disease. Outside of such emergencies, there would seem to be no legitimate reasons for cremation, and certainly no Christian motives for doing so.

Canon 21 (1983 code): “In case of doubt, the revocation of a pre-existing law is not presumed, but later laws must be related to the earlier ones and, insofar as possible, must be harmonized with them.”

Because CIC 1176.3 is ambiguous and non-definitive (by “earnestly recommending” burial but “not forbidding” cremation for Christian motives which, by the way, don’t exist), then the revocation of the 1917 prohibitions on cremation are not presumed. Rather, the 1983 law must be harmonized with the prior law prohibiting cremation. Because the 1983 law opens the door by allowing cremation if the reasons are not opposed to Christian teaching, but does not provide us with such reasons, then we can presume that the only legitimate reasons for cremation which are not opposed to Christian teaching are for emergency situations (e.g., war and disease).

**Canon 26 (1983 Code): **“Unless the competent legislator has specifically approved it, a custom contrary to the canon law now in force or one beyond a canonical law obtains the force of law only if it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. Only a centenary [100 years] or immemorial custom, however, can prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.”

Thus, a centenary or immemorial custom, such as the prohibition against cremation (which has existed for 2000 years), has attained the force of law by its uninterrupted practice in the Church. Even a canon law allowing cremation cannot overrule an immemorial custom, most especially a law like CIC 1176.3 which is ambiguous and fails to revoke the Church’s previous prohibitions. This is why we need a papal or Magisterial declaration to overrule the immemorial custom against cremation.

You’re reading into this what you want to read.

“It’s not forbidden unless it’s done for reasons contrary to the Christian faith” is not the same as “It’s forbidden unless for Christian motives”.

One can have a concern about space, or cost, or any number of valid reasons that have nothing to do with Christianity but are not in any way contrary to Christianity.

The Archdiocese of Portland has funeral policies that treat the question of cremation:

Topic 5: What are the accepted means of laying the deceased to rest?
Summary: Canons 1176 §3 and 1180:
The Church maintains and earnestly recommends that the members of the faithful observe the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased.
However, the Church also holds cremation as an option and does not prohibit its practice unless it is chosen for purposes that are contrary to the Christian faith, such as:
a) the deceased or those responsible for his or her burial have no belief in the resurrection;
b) the choice is based on a sectarian spirit;
c) there is a hatred of the Catholic religion or the Church.
It would be most proper that, if a parish has its own cemetery, deceased members of the faithful of that parish should be buried in it, unless the deceased or those given charge of his or her burial arrangements have legitimately chosen another cemetery for the final burial.
The “Appendix” of the Order of Christian Funerals adds: “The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires. Whenever possible, appropriate means for recording with dignity the memory of the deceased should be adopted, such as a plaque or stone which records the name of the deceased”
Archdiocese of Portland:
• Archdiocesan and parish cemeteries should make provision for the interment of cremated remains.
• Burial at sea is allowed. Cremated remains should be submerged in a container–not scattered.
• A priest or parish minister should not preside or lead prayers in a committal service during which the cremated remains are scattered, rather than interred.

Also, there isn’t an organization out there called “science” to donate your body to. You donate to a specific program. You will want to ask questions of available local donation programs, to see if their aims and methods suit your requirements and so that you will have the facts for talking to your family. (Donation programs normally will not accept donations over the objections of the family of the deceased.)

Oregon Health Science University has a questionaire that explains the strengths of their own program, for purposes of comparison with other programs:

I don’t know how things have changed since, but when I did cadaver dissection at a school in the state of Oregon roughly 20 years ago, we had to carefully return every bit of tissue that we could to the bucket assigned to each cadaver. The idea was that when we were finished, each cadaver could be returned to OHSU as a single entity, and with as little loss of the remains as possible. You would lose far less of yourself to the trash can if you had surgery while still living, I’m sure.

If our chosen donation program has careful guidelines to safeguard the dignity of our bodies after death, I think donation of one’s body to medical education is an excellent way to benefit others after we die. If reverence for the body isn’t a priority, however, I don’t think it is a good thing to participate with that particular program.

Not being a canon lawyer, I rely on this:
Can. 6 §1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:
1/ the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;
2/ other universal or particular laws contrary to the prescripts of this Code unless other provision is expressly made for particular laws;
3/ any universal or particular penal laws whatsoever issued by the Apostolic See unless they are contained in this Code;
4/ other universal disciplinary laws regarding matter which this Code completely reorders.
§2. Insofar as they repeat former law, the canons of this Code must be assessed also in accord with canonical tradition.
The way it reads to me, everything in the 1917 code is dead. Any law or tradition (small “t”) contrary to the code is dead.

Holy Mother Church currently permits cremation. Same funeral rites. Same prayers. Same liturgy. No difference. If and when the Church forbids cremation again, so be it. If the best we can do is agree to disagree, then we can agree to disagree.

Now, back on topic - I think Easter Joy has given a great and rational overview. However, I am in complete agreement on one point with previous posters: You MUST know what the donation program will and will not do with your body in every phase of donation. And as for me personally, while I have never thought of whole body donation, I hope that when God calls me home they can take as much of me as they can use to help others.

The quotes I posted were FROM a canon lawyer who is on EWTN and Relavent Radio. Check the link I posted earlier.

I don’t see the difference. Does having the bones all in one place really change that much?

I won’t get into the burial versus cremation debate again because I have stated my views on this before.

However, one thing I need to warn about.

If the University piles all the ashes together and buries them communally, I find this very disrespectful and I would strongly suspect it is contrary to the Church’s teachings. Each person should have their ashes interred separately, (or better still be buried - sorry couldn’t help myself, by my last remark I DID get into the burial versus cremation debate!).

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit