End-of-life options: A comparison guide

Each day, potential donors ask us about the differences between burial, cremation, university donation, organ donation, and body donation to science.
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end of life options

Burial vs. cremation vs. donation: Which is right for you?

We would like to explain the differences between each of these end-of-life options in an honest and transparent manner. Here at Science Care, we only coordinate body donation to science.

bird icon representing burial

Burial

Burial best fits families wanting a traditional viewing or funeral service. The body is typically embalmed for preservation, placed in a casket, and then a cemetery plot. A newer and less traditional approach is Green Burials, an eco-friendly biodegradable casket option, that is generally less expensive.

Benefits

  • May fulfill a cultural or familial tradition
  • Provides a final resting place for visiting
  • Can provide a sense of closure or final goodbye

Costs

  • $2,000 on average, for a casket
  • $9,000-$10,000 on average, for a funeral service, burial, plot, and marker

Costs usually vary based on location, the casket choice, plot, service, transportation, administrative and permitting fees.

Remains

  • Buried
tree icon representing cremation

Cremation

Cremation has grown to be the most common end-of-life choice, offering a variety of options for final disposition. The body is reduced to fine particles known as cremated remains. Remains are placed in an urn, interred in a tomb or mausoleum, or scattered over a favorite place.

If direct cremation is chosen, using a cremation service versus a traditional funeral home can help to reduce costs.

Benefits

  • May reduce financial burden on the surviving family
  • Still allows for a funeral and viewing
  • May fulfill a cultural tradition
  • Provides a place for visiting or the sharing of cremated remains among loved ones

Costs

  • Typically $1,100 - $3,700

The cost can vary greatly depending on the provider and the packages selected. The family can choose from several service options which could impact the final cost.

Remains

  • Returned to family in 1-3 weeks
  • Expedited service may be requested, typically for an additional fee
organ icon representing organ donation

Live organ donation

An organ is gifted from one person to a live transplant recipient, often saving a life. The organ or organs are generally procured at the hospital at the time of passing. Once organ donation is complete, there may be an option for body donation to science versus traditional burial or cremation.

If the wish is to do both organ donation and body donation to science, it is important to sign up for both individually and discuss the wish to donate to both organizations any loved ones. Compare the two:

See the differences

Benefits

  • Donor and their loved ones can potentially save the life of another
  • There may be the option to donate to science as well (once organ transplant is complete)

Costs

  • No cost to donate organs

Note: There may be costs associated with transportation and final disposition, depending on the option loved ones choose.

Remains

  • Dependent on the final disposition chosen, i.e. cremation, burial, or other.
building icon representing university donation

University donation

The body is gifted to a willed body program at a medical school or teaching hospital, allowing medical students to train before extending care to the public as licensed professionals. The body is embalmed and cremated after 1-3 years. Donations to universities can be declined at the time of passing, so seeking alternate arrangements as a backup plan is recommended.

Benefits

  • Knowing the donation is helping to train existing and future healthcare providers, serving future generations
  • Tissue received will typically remain at the university to serve educational, clinical, and research pursuits
  • May reduce financial burden on the surviving family

Costs

  • $0 - $1,000

Many are no cost, but several charge for transportation to the university or have a donation processing fee.

Remains

  • Cremated remains may not be available for return
  • They may be returned after 1-3 years in the program
DNA icon representing body donation to science

Donating your body to science

Body donation to science is gifting the body to a non-transplant tissue bank, like Science Care. Tissue is placed with medical research and training programs to further medical knowledge and advancements.

This is one of the most cost-effective options for end-of-life. Most who register will be accepted. Return of remains vary by program. Unless you register or enroll with a program that offers guaranteed acceptance, donations can be declined at the time of passing (based on needs in current research projects), so alternate arrangements are recommended.

Benefits

  • Donor and loved ones may find comfort in knowing the gift will advance healthcare for generations to come.
  • Tissue supports medical research, education, and training around the globe.
  • Includes all the benefits of cremation.
  • Reduces financial burden on the surviving family.

Costs

  • Programs vary.
  • Science Care is a no-cost option that includes transportation, cremation, the return of cremated remains not matched with a current Science Care program, and filing of the death certificate.

Remains

  • Programs vary.
  • Science Care returns cremated remains not matched with a current Science Care. program to the family within 3-5 weeks.
Why donate?

Next steps

The most important thing is knowing and understanding all your end-of-life options so you can make an informed decision that works best for you and your loved ones. When you research potential providers, remember to ask them about your personal needs, locations, service options, affiliations, and accreditations. Ensure you understand all associated costs and fees, so there are no surprises to your loved ones, and your wishes can be fully honored.

Cancer has been a curse in my family as far back as I can remember. Seeing how far our understanding has come — that second-hand smoke or environmental pollution can lead to cancer — makes this decision seem all the more practical. If I can leave my granddaughters any legacy at all, it is that in a small way, I contributed to the better understanding of this disease.”
— John A., Pennsylvania