Signing ceremony marks major milestone for Elon’s new Anatomical Gift Program

Nine of the program’s first donors made their commitments official during a ceremony on Friday, March 24. 

Elon’s new Anatomical Gift Program marked a major milestone on Friday, March 24, as a first cohort of donors made a commitment to the program at a signing ceremony at the Gerald L. Francis Center, home to the university’s School of Health Sciences. 
Nine of the program’s first donors were joined by many of the students who will be the beneficiaries of their gifts, with the program seeking to provide vital resources for the study of human anatomy to undergraduate science students and graduate students pursuing training in physical therapy and physician assistant studies. 

“You are giving yourselves after death to a noble cause and truly paying it forward in countless ways,” said the Rev. Jan Fuller, university chaplain, in remarks at the signing ceremony. 

Friday’s ceremony comes nearly four years after a group led by Elizabeth Rogers, dean emeritus of the School of Health Sciences, and Janet Cope, associate professor of physical therapy education and a clinical anatomist, completed a feasibility study of whether Elon could become one of just a handful of universities without a medical school to support an anatomical gift program. That study showed that the need was clearly there, with the hands-on study of the human body as an essential part of the scientific and medical education that Elon delivers. At the same time, the university was facing the increasingly difficult challenge of obtaining human donors for a clinical anatomy lab.

​“Elon was one of only a handful of programs in the country where undergraduate students gained firsthand knowledge of the human body using actual human donors,” Provost Steven House said Friday. 

Dianne Person, previously with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, worked as a consultant for the study, and last year joined Elon as the program’s founding director. Person has created the framework for the program and has begun the process of educating the public about the benefits of becoming a donor and the long-lasting impact donation can have. 

Those gathered Friday heard firsthand what that impact can be from current physical therapy and physician assistant studies students who shared what they have learned in the lab, and how they have leveraged that knowledge to the benefit of patients. 

Emily Messerschmidt, who is pursuing her doctorate in physical therapy at Elon, talked of how during her first clinical rotations she was able to envision the muscles in the body that she had seen firsthand thanks to donors and apply that knowledge. “I know I will continue to carry those images and the lessons I’ve learned throughout my careers as a physical therapist,” Messerschmidt said. 

​Kristen Moore, a first-year student in Elon’s Physician Assistant Studies Program, thanked the nine new donors for the contributions they would make to medical and scientific education. “In your anticipated time of loss, you’ve decided to give life,” Moore said. “Even through death, I think this program is giving life to people we don’t even know yet.”

The program has already received its first donation through the death of L. Hadley Hunt, who passed away in February, and whose wife offered remarks about his donation after signing her own commitment to become a donor upon her passing. JoAnn Hunt said that her husband had been one of “firsts” during his life, which was spent in the music ministry. 

JoAnn Hunt has spent her life in education, and said her life has been spent contributing the welfare of society through church and through being an educator. “I wish to continue doing so even after death,” Hunt said. 

Through Elon’s Anatomical Gift Program, any competent person at least 18 years of age can arrange to donate his or her body for use after death for educational purposes, provided they meet particular criteria for donation. For example, bodies of persons with infectious diseases are not accepted. Potential donors complete a General Information & Donor Consent Form that’s witnessed by two people and returned to the university.

​Anatomical donors will not be available for traditional funeral services. A donor’s family may hold a memorial or a religious service at their convenience without the body present. Arrangements and costs for such services are the responsibility of the family and in their discretion. Upon completion of studies, the anatomical donor will be cremated at the expense of the Anatomical Gift Program and the ashes will be made available to be returned to the family.

For more information about the Elon University Anatomical Gift Program, visit or call (336) 278-6564.