Donated to Science? Body Brokers profiting from the Dead

Difficult Decision

Almost anyone can dissect and sell the dead. In this widely unregulated market, human body parts are being sold for big profits by body brokers.

You may find their brochures in funeral homes, or end-of-life facilities, on-line, or in rehab treatment centers. They likely feature a caring couple with hands entwined, deciding to donate a deceased loved one’s body to science.

But what many believe is a noble cause, is actually a for-profit endeavor, preying on the vulnerable, and using the dead to harvest millions in a secretive industry.

The companies use names that conjure images of dedicated medical researchers striving to make a difference in the treatment or cures for diseases. Unsuspecting individuals may even think they’re doing what their loved one would have wanted.

While some bodies (or parts) may wind up being used for scientific discovery or research, body brokers, also known as non-transplant tissue banks, sell organs and body parts to the highest bidders.

Body brokers are distinctly different from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which is closely regulated by the U.S. government. The selling of hearts, tendons and kidneys for transplant is illegal.

But no current federal law governs the sale of body parts or cadavers deemed as use for education or research. Very few state laws have any oversight of the sales whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of knowledge or expertise, can sell and dissect human body parts.

The industry relies on an enormous supply of free bodies, often obtained from the poor. Predator companies advertise offering “free cremation” in return for the body donation. A portion of the loved one’s body may be cremated, and the remainder is dissected and sold.

Four states – only four states – Virginia, New York, Oklahoma and Florida – track and maintain records of body donation.¬†Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, “private brokers received at least¬†50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts.” Remember that these numbers are from the four monitored states only.

While the body trade industry is overwhelmingly unregulated, the need for donation is at a critical high.

True scientific research depends on the donation of cadavers. Medical students train and hone procedures while carefully and thoughtfully utilizing the graciously donated bodies of the deceased. Advancement toward the treatments or cures of diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes relies upon human donation as well.

When making a decision to donate a human body, make certain that the company is a reputable, not-for-profit agency. Oftentimes grieving families look to the funeral home for advise, but are unwittingly signing over their loved one’s body to be used at the discretion of the body broker.

The indigent and low-income are especially prey for “free cremation” services along with body donation. Funeral homes, drug treatment centers, and death-care facilities may have a pre-negotiated profit from each body donated.


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