Friday, November 10, 2017

Buying body parts is easy, as long as you don't use them for transplants

Cashing in on the donated dead: The Body Trade

Part 1: When Americans leave their bodies to science, they are also donating to commerce: Cadavers and body parts, especially those of the poor, are sold in a thriving and largely unregulated market. Grisly abuses abound.
"Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.
"Because only four states closely track donations and sales, the breadth of the market for body parts remains unknown. But data obtained under public record laws from those states – New York, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida – provide a snapshot. Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts."

Part 2: After a few emails, a body broker sold reporter Brian Grow two heads and a cervical spine. The spine came from a young man whose parents were too poor to bury him – and they say they never knew his body would be sold.

"Whether Restore Life vetted the buyer is unclear. But if workers there had verified their customer’s identity, they would have learned he was a reporter from Reuters. The news agency was seeking to determine how easy it might be to buy human body parts and whether those parts would be useful for medical research. In addition to the spine, Reuters later purchased two human heads from Restore Life, each priced at $300.

"The transactions demonstrate the startling ease with which human body parts may be bought and sold in the United States. Neither the sales nor the shipments violated any laws, say lawyers, professors and government officials who follow the issue closely. Although it’s illegal to sell organs used for transplants, it’s perfectly legal in most states to sell body parts that were donated for research or education. Buying wine over the Internet is arguably more tightly controlled, generally requiring at minimum proof of age.

Part 3: Science Care reaps $27 million in annual revenue by recruiting body donors through hospices, funeral homes and online ads.

"The typical pitch to the dying and their families is two-pronged. The first is altruism: The gift of a body will benefit medical science and, by extension, others in need.

"The second is financial: Body donation saves a family money. The average funeral, including coffin, memorial service and burial, costs about $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Simple cremation, an increasingly popular option, costs $400 to $1,000 or more.

"Body brokers like Science Care offer the cheapest option: free cremation in exchange for the body. The deal: Science Care pays for the cremation of a donor’s unused remains and for returning the ashes to the bereaved family, usually after a few weeks."

Part 4: Arthur Rathburn is accused of dismembering donated bodies with a chainsaw and renting HIV-infected parts to medical professionals. Prosecutors hailed his arrest as a crackdown. But for years, Reuters found, authorities let him do business despite signs of his bizarre practices.

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