Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the value of the Charitable Deduction for the Human Body?

The bodies on display are plastinated, a process that replaces bodily fluids and fat with plastic.  An interesting story on CNN's website talks about the growing practice of people donating their bodies for those gruesome but educational exhibits showing the entire human body. 

Individual Americans have had the right to bequeath their bodies to science since 1965, when the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act established the human body as property. With that law, a donor's wishes superseded those of the next of kin.  But academics in the field of gross anatomy attribute recent increases in body donations to relaxed social mores, according to an article published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Traditionally, medical schools have been the most common recipients of willed specimens in America. Then, in 1993, controversial German anatomist Gunther von Hagens emerged with an alternative.

One of the leaders in the body exhibits is BodyWorlds, a commercial outfit that would not qualify for the charitable contribution deduction, but surely there must be some law (pro or con) on organ donation to colleges, universities and medical research organizations.  I suspect that (1) there is no deduction for organs, because the donor has no basis -- but then the charitable contribution deduction is not limited to basis, or (2) the organ or body donation is useless as a source of a charitable donation because most people don't pay the estate tax anyway.

Still, the topic, complete with visuals, would be a good way to stimulate discussion of the charitable contribution deduction.  At least long enough to get students to stop playing computer games during class.


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