Chilling Investigative Report on Body Donation

Nov 17, 2017 | 0 comments

For years I’ve recommended national body donation services as a Plan B backup if a medical school can’t take an anatomical gift. Many people want the free cremation offered by medical schools as well as by national companies in exchange for the use of the deceased’s body.

At a medical school, ideally the deceased’s body is studied by students, dissected over a semester of study. The body may be used for other purposes, such as body farms for forensic anthropology or for automobile crash tests. However, a medical school can turn down an anatomical gift for any number of reasons, including no room at the morgue, hence the need to have a Plan B for a free cremation.

But a recent Reuters investigative news series is giving me pause about recommending national body donation services as a Plan B for a free cremation. The series by reporters Brian Grow and John Shiffman is titled, The Body Trade: Cashing in on the donated dead. Read this five-part series and find out what you need to know before choosing this option. The Q and A at the end is especially helpful.

Click on the headlines to go to each story.

Part 1: The Body Brokers

In the U.S. market for human bodies, almost anyone can dissect and sell the dead

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.

A Reuters journalist bought human body parts, then learned a donor’s heart-wrenching story

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.

Part 3: Industry Leader

How an American company made a fortune selling bodies donated to science

Science Care reaps $27 million in annual revenue by recruiting body donors through hospices, funeral homes and online ads. And to ensure quality of body parts sold, it found inspiration in a legendary model of efficiency: McDonald’s.

Part 4: Grisly Case

Reuters Body Trade FootIn a warehouse of horrors, body broker allegedly kept human heads stacked on his shelves

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.

Part 5: Mystery Woman

Mystery in the woods: In 2014, a woman’s severed head was found. Who is she?

Based on the precise way her neck was cut and the careful removal of her cervical spine, investigators believe a body broker was involved. But they need the public’s help to solve what they consider the most bizarre case they’ve handled.

Earlier: Army Experiments

How the body of an Arizona great-grandmother ended up as part of a U.S. Army blast test

Her family hoped Doris Stauffer’s body would be used to study Alzheimer’s. The story of how she became the subject of a Pentagon experiment casts a spotlight on a growing and unregulated industry: human body brokers.

Body Donations: Frequently Asked Questions

A Good Goodbye