Laboratory of Human Osteology
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
MSC01 1050
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-0001
(505) 277-3535

Donor Frequently Asked Questions:

Donation Process

10. What happens when I pass away? Depending on where you are when you pass away (hospital, home, care facility), you will need to be transported to the Office of the Medical Investigator at the School of Medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM. In cases of traumatic or suspicious deaths, the Office of the Medical Investigator is required by law to perform an autopsy on your body, so your body will be transported directly to their facility. If the death was not traumatic or suspicious, the Office of the Medical Investigator may not need to conduct an autopsy. In these cases, your estate or family will need to arrange and pay for the transport of the body to the Office of the Medical Investigator. In New Mexico, this can be done by calling Brookwood Ambulance at (505) 400-8944.

11. I live outside of the State of New Mexico. What will I need to do to have my body sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator? If you are residing outside New Mexico, it is especially important that you notify family or friends of your intention to donate your body to our program. Depending on the state, your body may or may not undergo an autopsy by that state's medical examiner. In either case, it is up to your estate or your family to make arrangements and pay for transportation to New Mexico. Please note that we cannot accept embalmed remains.

12. What expenses are the responsibility of my family or estate in relation to the donation of my body? Transportation costs to the Office of the Medical Investigator on the campus of UNM’s Medical School in Albuquerque, NM must be covered by your family or estate.

13. Should my estate or family assume the expense of a conventional funeral or memorial service before donating my skeletal remains to your collection? The embalming chemicals used by funeral homes harm the skeleton, so we cannot receive bodies treated for preservation. If your family would like to have a memorial service or funeral, please make sure they understand that your body cannot be preserved. You might suggest that a memorial service does not require your body to be present, so this might be an acceptable alternative to embalming.

14. What is involved in the actual preparation of my skeleton for your lab? Our lab is notified of the arrival of your body by the Office of the Medical Investigator. Within 10 days, laboratory staff remove the skeletal remains from your body. The skeletal elements are rendered and dried over the next few weeks and finally moved to the locked laboratory repository, where each individual is stored in an archival container.

15. What will happen to the rest (non-skeletal portions) of my remains? Your remains will be cremated and disposed of by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

16. Will my family receive any remains that they can bury or cremate?
At this point, we do not provide family with non-skeletonized remains for burial.

17. I would like to be cremated and then donated to your program. Can I do that? We can accept cremated remains, but prior to the cremation process, you need to request that the remains only be burned and not ground. Even though the fires in a crematorium get very hot, they do not completely destroy bone. Crematoriums ground the remaining material into a fine powder for the family, but if you still wish to donate your remains, we must have the skeletal remains before they are ground into a powder.

18. Who has access to my remains once they are stored in your repository? As with all of our skeletal collections, permission is required from the Laboratory Director for researchers who wish to study the remains of our body donors. Only legitimate, non-destructive analyses may be performed, and all researchers agree to abide by a set of rules that ensure proper handling and care of the skeletal remains. In the past, faculty members and graduate students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, as well as other institutions, have used the collection of donated bodies for research projects. In addition, family members are allowed to view the remains of their loved one upon request.