Scots ‘donating bodies to science to avoid funeral costs’

The rising cost of funerals is leading some Scots to try and donate their bodies to science. Picture:  Ian Georgeson
The rising cost of funerals is leading some Scots to try and donate their bodies to science. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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DESPERATE Scots are trying to donate their bodies to science to escape soaring funeral costs, an inquiry by MPs has been told.

However, some of the bodies end up being rejected because of disease, post-mortems or because anatomy departments are full up - landing relatives with the shock of hefty bills.

Now the inquiry is being urged to help people understand that bequeathal is not “an alternative to paying for a funeral.”

The alarm has been raised by the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, which receives up to 200 applications to donate bodies every year.

Professor Sue Black, the centre’s director, said it was accepting around 80 bodies each year, to be studied by medical students - up from only 20 a decade ago.

Some people approach the centre to offer their bodies after death as a thank you for treatment by the NHS, or to avoid a traditional religious funeral, the Professor said.

But she said the Dundee area had - after Glasgow and Inverclyde - the worst poverty in Scotland, adding: “It is therefore not unusual for our bequeathal secretary to receive calls that will relate to concerns over funeral costs.

“People getting closer to the grave realise they have not set aside the £3,000 or £4,000 that their family will have to find to pay for their funeral.

“In a deprived area like this, they don’t want their family to have that burden - but there is no guarantee that we will accept the body, which may come as a shock to the families.

“It is important that families do not see bequeathal as an alternative to paying for a funeral, although some people use it that way.”

Professor Black said she believed other anatomy departments across the UK were in the same situation, with many able to accept far fewer bodies.

Her own department received applications from England and Wales, as well as from across Scotland.

The inquiry has been launched, by the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, amid fears that more people are being plunged into “funeral poverty”.

The cost of even a basic funeral has leapt to £3,702, a rise of £140 in just 12 months, a report late last year revealed.

More than 20,000 applications for funeral payments - to cover the cost of a coffin, memorial and funeral directors’ fees, for example - are rejected by the Government every year.

And the cost to local councils of so-called “paupers’ funerals” has risen almost 30 per cent to £1.7m in the past four years, a BBC survey found.

MPs on the committee said constituents had told them they had been denied their relatives’ ashes because they were unable to pay for the funeral.