Disposition of Your Body

Before dying, you should leave word for your survivors of what is to be done with your body. The three major possibilities are burial, cremation, or full body donation. If your body is to be buried or cremated, you may also wish to specify the cemetery, columbarium, or other site where the remains are to be placed or scattered. If you are a veteran, consider the option of burial or columbarium in a national cemetery.

To compare services offered and prices charged by funeral homes and cemeteries in the Northern Virginia area, refer to our most recent Survey Report (see Resources). Prices vary greatly and are not necessarily an indication of quality, but as with any purchase, price is not the only factor to be considered. We suggest that you visit facilities you are considering before making a decision. Also remember that prices, services and ownership change; you will need to review your decision periodically.

Another way to compare funeral homes is offered by Funerals360.com  Funerals 360.com, a website designed to assist families in funeral planning. Funerals360 is a for-profit company but it offers an extensive set of free online resources.

Organ Donation

Regardless of which method of disposition you choose, you may be able to donate eyes, organs, or tissue. You may already have made this decision, and it may be indicated on your Virginia driver’s license. If not, information is available at these sites:

Beadadonor.org is the website of the Washington Regional Transplant Community, a non-profit organization that provides organ, tissue and eye recovery in Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and suburban Maryland. 

This website has a comprehensive set of questions and answers about organ donation (but not full-body donation). It is maintained by Donate Life Virginia, which promotes organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation in the Commonwealth.


Immediate (Direct) Burial is the least expensive type of burial. The body is buried shortly after death, usually in a simple container. No viewing or visitation is involved; embalming isn't performed. A memorial service may be held at the graveside or later. 

Green Burial refers to burials carried out in a biodegradable casket or shroud and without embalming or vaults/grave liners to allow a natural decomposition of the interred body and cause the least amount of environmental damage. It is not widely available in the Washington DC area at this time. 

Ordinary Burials are usually held a few days after death in conjunction with a funeral service and may require embalming.


Although funeral homes sometimes provide services in connection with cremation, services of a funeral home are not required. 

In Direct Cremation, the body is cremated shortly after death without embalming. The cremated remains are placed in an urn or other container. No viewing or visitation is involved, although a memorial service may be held with or without the cremated remains present.

Full-Body Donation

Individuals can make a useful contribution to science when they die by donating their bodies to science. People who live in the Washington, DC area can choose among several different places to make such a donation. They each will provide information and authorization forms upon request. It is advisable, although not always required, to register your intentions in advance. And of course it is essential that the donor leave instructions for the person who will be responsible for making final arrangements. 

Three medical schools in the Washington, D.C. area accept donations. (George Washington University is not accepting donations at this time.) 

Medical Schools

Georgetown University School of Medicine
Anatomical Donor Program (202) 687-1219

Howard University Department of Anatomy
(202) 806-6555 or 202-806-9869

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (a Department of Defense facility)
(301) 295-3333

Virginia State program

State Anatomical Program, Virginia Department of Health
400 East Jackson Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219 (804)786-2479 OCME.Anatomical@vdh.virginia.gov
The Virginia State Anatomical Program is operated by the Virginia Department of Health. It is the only organization in the Commonwealth legally authorized to accept, document, and distribute whole donated bodies.

National Registries
Two national programs make arrangements for individuals to donate their bodies for research and education at no cost to those making the donation. Medical researchers and educators pay for the valuable services that these organizations provide. 

Anatomy Gifts Registry, 7522 Connelley Drive Suite M, Hanover, MD 21076 
(800) 300-5433 or (410) 863-0491

LifeQuest Anatomical, 659 East Allen Street, Allentown, PA 18109 
(866) 799-2300 info@lifequest-anatomical.com

Sept 2016 rsb