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General information, conditions and restrictions

Importance of bequests

The principal use of bequests of this kind is for teaching anatomy to medical, dental, physiotherapy, physical education, and science students. Acquiring a sound knowledge of the structure of the human body is possible only if students of anatomy have access to human bodies for careful dissection and study.

The Department is most grateful to persons who so generously bequeath their bodies for anatomical study. The contribution to the training of tomorrow's doctors, dentists and other health care professionals is enormous.

Use in research

A number of academic staff and postgraduate students use bequeathed human bodies for research purposes beneficial to advancing health care and scientific knowledge.  Some of our current research projects include: exploring the form and function of structures of the shoulder and other joints; examining biomechanics of the spine; assessing surgical approaches to the foot and ankle; investigating pelvic joint dysfunction, and gaining a better understanding of how anatomy relates to urinary control. Approval from the University of Otago (Health) Ethics Committee is required for all research undertaken within the Department.


The bequest of bodies for anatomical study is governed by the Human Tissue Act 2008. Under the Act, the Department requires dual signed consent from the individual and an immediate family member*. For this reason we require the donor and one member of the immediate family to sign a consent form. It is the duty of the immediate family member to undertake all reasonably practicable steps to consult other members of the immediate family prior to completing the form.

* The Act defines immediate family as being a “spouse, civil partner, de factor partner, parent, child, guardian, grandparent, brother, sister, step-child, step-parent, step-brother, step-sister”.

Registration of a wish to donate a body must be completed prior to death. Please contact the Department for a registration form (see below for contact details).

The Department regrets that under the terms of the Act, if there is no living immediate family member (as defined above) to act as dual signatory, the bequest cannot be accepted.

Residential address

The Department accepts bequests from people living in the greater Dunedin (Balclutha to Oamaru), Invercargill (Lumsden to Balclutha), Christchurch (Ashburton to Cheviot) and Nelson/Marlborough (Takaka to Blenheim) areas only. Should a donor move to live outside these areas, their bequest will not be able to be accepted. Donors who permanently change residential address should inform the Department of Anatomy.

Place of death

Because we require the body to be specially embalmed within 24 hours, we cannot normally accept a body if the donor dies outside the accepted area. If a donor, whose bequest is arranged under the conditions set out here, dies outside these areas (such as while on holiday), the Department will not be able to accept the body.

Organ donation

A body from which organs have been removed at the time of death for transplant cannot subsequently be embalmed properly for anatomical study. Therefore we cannot accept bequests from people whose primary wish is to donate their organs. However, bodies from which the eyes have been removed for corneal grafts are still satisfactory. Where a donor first wishes to consider organ donation, they should contact Organ Donation New Zealand ( or 0800 436 667).

Medical history

Although not essential, it is sometimes of value to have a record of the main features of any medical history. Medical information can be forwarded to the Department. Of course all information concerning bequests is kept strictly confidential.


While the Department endeavours to accept all bequests at the time of death, there are certain circumstances under which the Department is not able to accept bequests which had previously been registered.

With this in mind, it is important that estates make alternative arrangements in case circumstances preclude the Department from being able to accept a bequest.

Some of the reasons the Department may be unable to accept bequests include:

  • Size. For upper size restriction please contact us
  • Infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B or C, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, active Tuberculosis, or  those who are HIV positive
  • Undergone complicated and/or extensive major  surgery within a month of death
  • Displayed rapid onset of dementia, within six months of death
  • Suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm
  • Undergone a postmortem examination
  • Potentially been exposed to, or have a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis at the time of passing
  • Passed away while outside the accepted Dunedin/Invercargill/Christchurch and Nelson/Marlborough areas

At the time of death, funeral directors should check with Distinct Funerals in Invercargill (03 218 9468), John Rhind Funeral Directors in Christchurch (03 379 9920), Marsden House Funeral Directors in Nelson (03 548 2770), or with staff of the Department of Anatomy in Dunedin (0800 580 500), that the Department is still able to accept the bequest.

Embalming and transport

The bodies of persons dying in the Otago area are specially embalmed in Dunedin. The only other places where such embalming is done is at Distinct Funerals in Invercargill, Gillions Funeral Services in Dunedin, John Rhind Funeral Directors in Christchurch and Marsden House Funeral Directors in Nelson where they prepare the body according to our requirements. A freight service company transports the body to the Department in a specially constructed container which is more suitable for this purpose than the usual casket. Today's costs preclude our using a funeral director's hearse. We can assure donors that the company we employ is very aware of the need for dignified and respectful handling of their important commission. Our experience is that people who wish their bodies to be of use after death are not disturbed by the necessity for special embalming or the need for their bodies to be brought to Dunedin in this way.

Funeral service

Because the donor's body has to be specially embalmed very soon after death, it is not possible to hold the usual funeral service with the body present. However, a memorial service can be held without the body being present, if the donor or family wish. This is to be arranged at the estate's expense.


The Department pays the expenses of our special methods of embalming, the transport of the body from the place of death to Dunedin, and the cost of cremating the remains, except in instances where return of ashes has been requested. The donor's estate will be required to register the death in the usual way, and cover the additional cost of individual cremation for the return of ashes, if required.

Disposal following study

The anatomical examination of a donor's body extends through a teaching year or beyond, so that a period of 18 months or longer normally elapses between the death of the donor and the final disposal of his or her remains. Sometimes body parts will be retained for long term study and research. This is allowed under the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 2008.

Following the completion of study, the remains are cremated at the Dunedin Crematorium, without a service, and the ashes scattered on a rose garden at Andersons Bay cemetery. We regret that we are unable to make special arrangements for a donor, e.g. for a religious service to be held, or to have a burial. This applies even if the costs were to be paid by the deceased's estate or family. We have found that most donors prefer that their remains be cremated and the ashes scattered.

Return of ashes

While the Department would normally expect to cremate and scatter the ashes of all donors, it will consider requests for ashes to be returned to the family, via the executor of the estate. However this limits our ability to set in place an appropriate study plan and to provide ongoing education for our trainee doctors and dentists, as well as limiting some areas of research.The Department asks that donors and family please take this into consideration before requesting the return of ashes.

Having considered this, should the family wish to request the return of ashes, they should do so, in writing, before the body is removed for embalming. Requests received after this time may mean that it is not possible to return all the ashes, and some parts may be retained by the Department. The ashes will be returned to the executor of the estate who will have the legal right to possess the ashes. There will be a cost involved when returning the ashes.

Māori ceremony

At the beginning of each year a Māori ceremony, or whakawātea, is carried out in the Department's Dissecting Room where the covered bodies of people about to be studied are resting. This "clearing of the way" ceremony helps the Department's Māori students who will be attending classes in the Dissecting Room come to terms with death, and is not intended to have any religious significance for the individual bequeathed bodies. At the end of the teaching year the bodies are thanked with a Poroporoaki (farewell).

Thanksgiving service

The Department holds an annual service for family and friends of donors, and staff and students of the Department, to give thanks to the families of those whose bodies have been received by the Department. Please contact the Department if you would like more information. Services alternate each year between Christchurch and Dunedin.

To register a bequest

Any person wishing to register his or her bequest to the Department of Anatomy must ensure that they contact the Department in advance. Under the Human Tissue Act 2008, the Department can only accept the bodies of persons with whom prior arrangements have been made.

Further information

To receive a registration form, please contact:

The Bequest Administrator
Department of Anatomy
University of Otago
PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054

Phone 0800 580 500


Body Bequests
Criteria for Accepting a Body

Letter of thanks to donors and their families


We all have a story, but for these special individuals, their influence will continue well beyond life, through their truly selfless gift.

On behalf of all students touched by your loved one, thank you. Thank you to you and the exceptional people that unite us. Through their generosity, we have a lifetime connection. By their generosity, we are inspired. To have these special people touch our lives is a true blessing.

Thank you.

Annie Stevenson
2nd Year Medical student

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