Written by: Staff Writer
Most people are familiar with writer Mary Shelley’s story of ‘Frankenstein’: A mad scientist digs up graves of the recently deceased in order to harvest various body parts to create a monster in a grotesque experiment. While unethical gravediggers looking to make a profit (or a monster, in some cases) are known to be a popular plot point in many Gothic Horror stories like Frankenstein and were quite a prevalent issue in the Victorian Era, many people are completely unaware that today, disturbing practices like these still exist.
The selling of human body parts by “body brokers”, also known as “non-transplant tissue banks,” is an incredibly lucrative business. A full human cadaver can sell for as little as one thousand dollars, up to as much as two hundred thousand dollars. Startlingly, many funeral homes actively participate in selling human remains to body brokers in order to make a larger profit than they would otherwise be able to through their ethical business practices.
The business of selling human remains to body brokers affects low-income families the most. Often times, owners or employees of funeral homes will offer grieving poor families the option to have a small portion of their loved one cremated for free. However, the rest of the body will be sold to body brokers, who in turn, sell the parts to workers in the pharmaceutical and medical industry.
In one case, a business known as Southern Nevada Donor Services located in Las Vegas, Nevada touted themselves as “Providing Options in Your Time of Need”; They offered these low-income families the option of free cremation for donating a large portion of their loved one’s remains to what they referred to as “advanced medical studies”. Suspicions were raised in the community in the fall of 2015 when other businesses surrounding the Southern Nevada Donor Services warehouse began to complain of a horrible stench and discovered boxes, which were covered in blood, inside a nearby dumpster. People also began to notice “odd activity” around the building. When the health inspector arrived to investigate complaints, he witnessed an employee using a garden hose to help speed up the process of thawing a frozen human torso. A Nevada state official reported that “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters”, as the stream from the garden hose ran down the street past storefronts and pooled in front of a technical school located directly across the street from the facility.
There is no federal law in the United States which forbids or even regulates the buying and selling of human remains for dissection, and there are very few states which have specific laws regarding those areas. California, one of the states that does have laws prohibiting such practices launched a massive criminal investigation into the practice of selling human remains by the prolific Los Angeles college, UCLA after a massive scandal at the University; It was discovered in March of 2004 that Harry Reid, director of UCLA’s “Willed Body Program” was illegally selling body parts, an act for which he was promptly arrested.
It is widely known that bodies donated to science play a vital role in medical education, training, and research. Medical students, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, and even dentists receive much of their training by practicing on various human body parts, and even full cadavers. This is especially important as it enables them to gain the experience, they will need to help save lives. Nothing can better prepare surgeons and other medical professionals for the emotional response involved working on living human beings.
Cadavers are also crucial to researchers working to develop implants, surgical techniques, medical instruments, and medicine to treat various diseases. Bodies which are donated to science can even help in saving lives, often being used for necessary transplants, which are highly regulated by the United States government. Unfortunately, most of the hundreds of thousands of people who donate their body to these important studies are not aware that there is a very good possibility their remains will end up in the hands of these body brokers and will be sold for the business’s, or individual’s profit, such as in the case of UCLA’s Harry Reid.
Today, the sale of human body parts is actually far more widespread than it was even in the Victorian Era. The invention of the internet has made it easier now more than ever to illegally sell body parts of the deceased on the black market. A hidden part of the internet accessible only through the “TOR” browser, which is generally referred to as “The Dark Web”, is often used to facilitate these illegal sales, even enabling body brokers to sell human remains to buyers in other areas of the country, and overseas. Many of these organs, tissues, ligaments, and various body parts sold on the black market are used for illegal transplants. However, because these remains are improperly obtained and screened, those receiving the organs and tissues are at an extremely high risk of suffering from various diseases, and medical complications. But for rich individuals and their families who are desperate for a potentially life-saving transplant, they are more than happy to take the risk. And perhaps most disturbingly of all, there is no shortage of crooked doctors who are more than happy to provide them with these illegal surgeries and procedures, for a high fee.
According to various United States insurance companies and hospitals, selling a heart on the black market can gain the seller approximately fifty-seven thousand dollars. A kidney will cost upwards of ninety thousand, while a lung can bring in close to one-hundred and twenty thousand. With the selling of human body parts being such a lucrative business, and with their being so few regulations in the United States, it seems this unsettling practice will not end anytime soon. It is all too easy for funeral homes to take advantage of poor families who are unable to afford the cost of a traditional funeral, or even a service so seemingly simple as cremation, which will end up costing the bereaved several thousand dollars. And unfortunately, with the high demand for human remains, and the high prices obtained for them, many funeral homes are all too eager to manipulate people into donating their loved one’s remains to be sold either illegally on the black market, or through perfectly legal avenues like body brokers.