5 Things You Didn’t Know About Donating Your Brain to Science

By: Chris Opfer  | 

Hand craddle a model of the human brain
These gifts are key to research that may change the way a wide range of ailments are treated. RapidEye/Getty Images

You don't have to be sitting on a mountain of cash when you die to leave a little something for your loved ones and the rest of humanity. Researchers are looking for a few — er, many — good men and women to donate their brains to science. These gifts are key to research that may change the way a wide range of ailments, including Alzheimer's disease and dementia, are treated. Of course, the idea of having your organs picked over by strangers when the sun sets on your time here among the living is enough to give some of us the willies. Here are a few things you should know.

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1. Time Is of the Essence

Obviously, the decision to donate any body part is something you have to reach before you die. But it's also important that people know about your choice before you leave this world for whatever might come next. A brain donor's body has to be refrigerated or the brain put on ice within six hours of death, according to researchers at Harvard University.

2. You Can Still Have an Open Casket Funeral

Yes, you can still have an open casket funeral if you decide to give the gift of your brain after death. A person's face and hair are not disturbed by the brain removal process, so your loved ones are still able to have one last look.

3. Nope — There Are No Tax Benefits

Sure, agreeing to give up your brain — or any other organ — to science is one of the more charitable things a person can do. But that doesn't mean it's treated as a charitable donation for tax purposes. It is not. Of course, some folks concerned about where they'll wind up in the afterlife may find comfort in knowing that they're doing one last good deed.

4. Healthy Brains Are Welcome

You don't need to have a brain ailment to participate in a donation program. Researchers want access to "healthy" brains so they can compare tissue to those with various diseases.

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5. Driver's License Designation Is Not Enough

If you decide to go ahead with brain donation, there are certain steps required to seal the deal. Designating yourself as an organ donor on your driver's license alone doesn't give researchers the right to take your brain. But, consent for brain donation can be given by next of kin immediately following death, so if it is something you want to do, you should talk with your family and friends about it, share your wishes and register beforehand to donate your brain. The Brain Donor Project is a great starting place for information and resources.

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