The Body Trade

Brian Grow, John Shi man, Blake Morrison, Elizabeth Culliford, Reade Levinson, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Zach Goelman and Mike Wood

In “The Body Trade,” Reuters reporters Brian Grow and John Shiffman scrutinized the inner workings of the body-part marketplace and how companies cash in on the donated dead. Unlike the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates, the journalists found that the selling and/or leasing of human remains (whether torsos, heads or limbs) is virtually unregulated, without consistent laws or clear oversight authority. Determined to show how easy it is to acquire such body parts, they documented how they actually purchased a cervical spine from one company. (Reuters later returned the spine to the family that had donated it after their son passed away.) And, while donated cadavers are crucial in medical education, training and research, Grow and Shiffman found that, in many cases, funeral homes and so-called “body brokers” make lucrative partnerships that incentivize mortuaries to encourage grieving relatives to consider body donation instead of costly funerals, sometimes without the family understanding what might happen to those remains. The anecdotes they uncovered were particularly grim. One company was accused of supplying unsuspecting doctors with body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV for use in training seminars; another company reportedly dismembered corpses using a “coarse cutting instrument such as a chain saw.”

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