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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Too Fat To Leave Your Body To Science?

By February 18, 2014

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I was reading an MSN article about how, if you donate your body to science, it may be rejected if you are overweight. The problem is a combination of lack of space in storage facilities and belief that studying an obese body may make it harder to students to see physiological structures. Something I never thought about was the extreme weight difference of an embalmed body versus that of an ordinary corpse. According to Richard Dey, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at West Virginia University in Morgantown, "The embalming process adds considerable weight. Generally, a 250-pound person might weigh 350 to 400 pounds when embalmed." Therefore, there are weight limits for body donation programs. What weight is too high? The limit may be as low as 170 pounds! Also, you may be rejected if your body is too tall to fit in a storage compartment.

Chemical Composition of Embalming Fluid

And, in case you were wondering... embalming fluid usually consists of a mixture of formaldehyde and alcohol. A typical composition may contain 5 to 29 percent formaldehyde and 9 to 56 percent ethanol or methanol. Other chemicals may be added, such as glutaraldehyde and phenol. It may interest you to know there are different formulations depending on the purpose of the preservation. For example, a different embalming fluid "recipe" is used to prepare a body for viewing as opposed to shipping it overseas.


February 25, 2012 at 2:39 am
(1) Becky says:

Is there a way to donate just the skeleton to universities and high schools? Skeletons are extremely expensive!

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