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The Role of the Humanity Gifts Registry

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about questionable practices by certain organizations or businesses that distribute cadavers for health related activities. They have been accused of obtaining bodies illegally or without proper permission, selling body parts for large sums, and improperly and disrespectfully disposing of the remains.

The Humanity Gifts Registry of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (HGR) wishes to clarify its role and emphasize that it does not take part in these or any other of the questionable activities of which so-called “body brokers” have been accused.

The education of future health care professionals depends upon their ability to learn anatomy from first hand exposure to the structure of human bodies. We recognize that improper and illegal activities by some organizations have made people question whether it is wise to consider anatomical donation, and we have in fact received a number of phone calls from potential donors. The purpose of this statement is to emphasize that the HGR strives at all times to act with the highest ethical standards and that we treat all donated bodies with respect and gratitude.

The HGR receives donations of bodies for medical education and research, and coordinates their distribution among all medical and dental schools throughout the state. Formerly known as the Anatomical Board, it was established in 1883 by action of the General Assembly. The HGR is the only organization in Pennsylvania which operates by specific legislative authority to receive bodies for education and research.

The HGR is comprised of all medical and dental schools in the Commonwealth. Representative faculty members from the departments that teach anatomy at these schools form an Executive Committee which serves without pay. Three faculty are elected to serve as officers for four-year terms for only nominal salaries; in 2010 they were paid approximately three thousand dollars per year. An office staffed by three employees manages the day-to-day affairs of the HGR and interacts with potential donors and their families.

The Humanity Gifts Registry is nonprofit. The participating schools pay only for the actual expenses involved in obtaining and distributing the donated bodies. The Auditor General of Pennsylvania regularly examines the financial records of the HGR to verify that all funds are accounted for and that all expenses are consistent with the law and the nonprofit nature of the agency.

By law, these bodies and body parts must remain in Pennsylvania. No tissues are sold to researchers or commercial firms. After studies are completed the bodies are cremated and the remains are interred in cemetery plots maintained by the HGR, and family members can visit their relatives= graves. Alternatively, when requested by the next of kin the cremated remains can be returned to the family.

Each year the students who study anatomy at the member schools hold memorial Celebrations of Remembrance in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Hershey. The families and friends of those who died and donated their bodies to education and science are invited to join the students in honoring their memories and thanking them for making such a selfless gift.

Our staff is available to answer questions about the process of body donation through the HGR and to help with registration as a donor. Please feel free to call, write, or email for further information.


Humanity Gifts Registry
P.O. Box 835 • Philadelphia, PA • 19105-0835 • (215) 922-4440 • M-F 8-3pm

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