Body brokers Inside America's underground trade in human remains

Annie Cheney

Book - 2006

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New York : Broadway Books 2006.
1st ed
Physical Description
xiv, 205 p.
Includes bibliographical references.
Main Author
Annie Cheney (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ Here's one with the potential to keep folks up nights, wondering whether the urn on the mantel contains 100-percent Uncle Fred or a blend. Before journalist Cheney began an assignment for My Generation magazine, she had never suspected there might be diverse career opportunities for cadavers, that whatever one wants to be when one grows up, options continue to exist postmortem. But consider the ever-popular organ donor program. And then there's the option of donating one's body to a medical school for the betterment of mankind through science. Once that latter choice is made, Cheney learned, alternatives multiply, and a corpse can follow one of several roads. On a lower thoroughfare, big bucks are waiting for the cold-blooded entrepreneur ready to carve human bodies up like chickens and parcel them out to the highest bidder for such uses as military bomb test dummies, lifelike operative subjects for medical seminars, and resource troves for the machine-tooling of bones into orthopedic apparatus. Even if one never willingly donates one's body, there are enough unscrupulous morticians and morgue workers who will surreptitiously carve out an ulna or a femur and replace it with a PVC pipe, then sell the goods on the not-so-open open market. This is a chilling expose of the grisly industry of body trading. ((Reviewed March 1, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Readers will be horrified by this carefully researched exposé revealing that the trade in corpses for medical research and education didn't go out with 19th-century grave robbers. Cheney, who won a Society of Professional Journalists award for the Harper's article that gave rise to this book, describes the case of Arthur Rathburn, a morgue attendant at the University of Michigan Medical School, who supplied body parts to the American Association of Clinical Anatomists and other organizations until he was caught and fired. Families who donate the bodies of loved ones to medical schools are misled into believing that no profit will be made from their gift, but many schools--the University of Kansas and Tulane, among others, according to the author--generate income by selling surplus corpses to the highest bidders. Cheney also covers the sale of transplantable tissue for patients undergoing surgery; with no government oversight of this "billion-dollar business," such tissue can be diseased, resulting in bacterial infections and even death for recipients. Occasionally, melodramatic narrative pads the substance, but Cheney reveals a disturbing medical underworld that deserves attention. (Mar.) [Page 54]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An exposâe of the business of procuring and selling human cadavers and body parts describes how bodies meant for academic research, burial, or cremation make their way to body brokers who illegally capitalize on the need for human remains.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Every year some 30% of American corpses are cremated. And as journalist Annie Cheney discovered, no one keeps track of them before they reach their final destination. While the government has tight controls on organs and tissue meant for transplantation,there are other uses for cadavers that receive no oversight whatsoever: parts are used in commercial seminars to introduce new medical gadgetry; torsos are used for surgery practice; bodies are bought by the Army for land-mine tests. A single corpse can generate up to $100,000. Dead bodies, it turns out, are a billion-dollar business. And when there's that much money to be made without regulation, there are all sorts of shady characters employing questionable practices. Body parts are shipped via FedEx or driven cross-country packed in coolers, and the deceased's families are usually entirely unaware. This book will make you look at death in a whole new way.--From publisher description.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A disturbing exposé of the lucrative business of procuring, purchasing, and selling human cadavers and body parts describes how bodies meant for academic research, burial, or cremation make their way into the hands of a group of entrepreneurial body brokers who illegally capitalize on the need for human remains. 30,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

“You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.”--Epictetus   “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will follow.” -- Matthew 24:28   Body Brokers is an audacious, disturbing, and compellingly written investigative exposé of a little known aspect of the “death care” world: the lucrative business of procuring, buying, and selling human cadavers and body parts.   Every year human corpses meant for anatomy classes, burial, or cremation find their way into the hands of a shadowy group of entrepreneurs who profit by buying and selling human remains. While the government has controls on organs and tissue meant for transplantation, these “body brokers” capitalize on the myriad other uses for dead bodies that receive no federal oversight whatsoever: commercial seminars to introduce new medical gadgetry; medical research studies and training courses; and U.S. Army land-mine explosion tests.  A single corpse used for these purposes can generate up to $10,000. As journalist Annie Cheney found while reporting on this subject over the course of three years,  when there’s that much money to be made with no federal regulation, there are all sorts of shady (and fascinating) characters who are willing to employ questionable practices—from deception and outright theft -- to acquire, market, and distribute human bodies and parts.   In Michigan and New York she discovers funeral directors who buy corpses from medical schools and supply the parts to surgical equipment companies and associations of surgeons. In California, she meets a crematorium owner who sold the body parts of people he was supposed to cremate, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits.  In Florida, she attends a medical conference in a luxury hotel, where fresh torsos are delivered in large coolers and displayed on gurneys in a room normally used for banquets.  “That torso that you’re living in right now is just flesh and bones.  To me, it’s a product,” says the New Jersey-based broker presiding over the torsos.   Tracing the origins of body brokering from the “resurrectionists” of the 19th century to the entrepreneurs of today, Cheney chronicles how demand for cadavers has long driven unscrupulous funeral home, crematorium and medical school personnel to treat human bodies as commodities.    Gripping, often chilling, and sure to cause a reexamination of the American way of death, Body Brokers is a captivating work of first-person reportage.