26 July 2012

"Parts is parts"

Excerpts from articles about the harvesting of human body parts for reuse, from a four-part series by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
In the US alone, the biggest market and the biggest supplier, an estimated two million products derived from human tissue are sold each year, a figure that has doubled over the past decade.

It is an industry that promotes treatments and products that literally allow the blind to see (through cornea transplants) and the lame to walk (by recycling tendons and ligaments for use in knee repairs). It's also an industry fuelled by powerful appetites for bottom-line profits and fresh human bodies...

In contrast to tightly monitored systems for tracking intact organs such as hearts and lungs, authorities in the US and many other countries have no way to accurately trace where recycled skin and other tissues come from and where they go...

The Slovaks export cadaver parts to the Germans; the Germans export finished products to South Korea and the US; the South Koreans to Mexico; the US to more than 30 countries. Distributors of manufactured products can be found in the European Union, China, Canada, Thailand, India, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Some are subsidiaries of multinational medical corporations.

The international nature of the industry, critics claim, makes it easy to move products from place to place without much scrutiny.

If I buy something from Rwanda, then put a Belgian label on it, I can import it into the US. When you enter into the official system, everyone is so trusting,” said Dr Martin Zizi, professor of neurophysiology at the Free University of Brussels.  Once a product is in the European Union, it can be shipped to the US with few questions asked.

“They assume you've done the quality check," Zizi said. "We are more careful with fruit and vegetables than with body parts.”..

Because of the ban on selling the tissue itself, the US companies that first commercialised the trade adopted the same methods as the blood collection business.

The for-profit companies set up non-profit offshoots to collect the tissue — in much the same way the Red Cross collects blood that is later turned into products by commercial entities.

Nobody charges for the tissue itself, which under normal circumstances is freely donated by the dead (via donor registries) or by their families.

Rather, tissue banks and other organisations involved in the process receive ill-defined “reasonable payments” to compensate them for obtaining and handling the tissue.
That's one reason some people argue that you shouldn't sign your organ donor card; your body parts are sufficiently valuable that if you die in a hospital, representatives may negotiate with your loved ones to reduce or eliminate your hospital bill in exchange for harvesting your tissue; if your consent is pre-signed, they may not make such offers.  I don't know whether such arguments are valid; it may be country-dependent.

Other articles (here, here) in the series detail the morbid and often unethical methodology used in tissue procurement:
“On the way to the cemetery, when we were in the hearse, one of his feet — we noticed that one of the shoes slipped off his foot, which seemed to be hanging loose,” his mother, Lubov Frolova, told ICIJ.

“When my daughter-in-law touched it, she said that his foot was empty.”

Later, the police showed her a list of what had been taken from her son’s body.

“Two ribs, two Achilles heels, two elbows, two eardrums, two teeth, and so on. I couldn’t read it till the end, as I felt sick. I couldn’t read it,” she said...“  I was in shock,” Rahulina said. She never signed the papers, she said, and it was clear to her that someone had forged her approval.


  1. Achilles' heel is a mythological thing. Tendon maybe?

  2. The tempatation has always been there but it's no longer just your fillings they collect. Eyes and mouths are sewn shut, body is fully dressed and placed in a box and burried and the family pays for whole thing. Who is going to know?

    Sadly, the only solution I have is to create a market for pre-selling your corpse. Then your body would have an owner and its tangible value (protected by law) would be inventoried - to which these thefts would have to answer to.

    It can only get worse. Read, 'the Body Shop'.

    And no donor card for me, thankyou. Hospital quickly declares you 'dead' and then keeps your tissues alive as long as they want or until they have use. The profits of these resulting transactions, since no value was ever put on your meat, are only counted for the surgeries / no monetary benefit goes towards your family and even if it did, they would just apply it to the deceased medical debt, am I right?

    There was a mortician in Los Angeles, Ca that was stealing cornea's - and when they caught him there was no law on the books for post mortem corneal collection so they slapped his wrist. Supposedly he was fetching $5,000 a set. I think they busted him with 11 or 26 sets. No attempt to exhume bodies for further investigation. Do you realize how many bodies flow through the LA County Morgue?

    1. What harm was done by that mortician? Some people got new vision. He got some money. The body didn't lose anything it needed for sure.

    2. How useful would mortician collected corneas really be? Surely by the time the mortician gets the body it has been dead and off life support/circulation systems for a while.

    3. My dead body is useless to me BUT because my surviving family thinks it should be treated with the dignity they see fit / can afford.
      Cemetaries do not exist for the dead.

  3. If someone has some use for my meat when I'm done with it - go for it, bon appetit. If you can make some money on it and restore someone's sight, ability to walk or clean their blood, pump blood or otherwise enjoy life I'm all for it. On my first donor card I think I said "any useable parts, especially brain and gonads".

    Maybe the docs will be a little more anxious to call it quits on you if they think they can save the teenager in the ICU with your kidneys. But the idea that you're going to walk out of the hospital and have any quality of life after you've gotten to the point where they're talking about declaring you brain dead is a joke. They're doing you a favor to shut down the machine.

    I made some money (among many money losers) in a company called CryoLife that sells heart valves salvaged from corpses. I ended up selling the stock because I thought the company was unethical in its business dealings with other companies. So there may be something to the correlation between grave robbing and lack of ethics.

  4. My concern is that body parts from an unknown source may harbor disease. Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease can be misdiagnosed as dementia and without a biopsy, no one would be aware that corneas harvested from the cadaver would highly infectious.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...