Many people want to make the selfless decision to donate their bodies to science. Others just can’t afford the cost of a traditional funeral. These people turn to donor services, which offer free cremation in exchange for the donation of the loved one’s body to “advanced medical studies.”
Sounds good, but for people who chose the Southern Nevada Donor, it was too good to be true. Reuters did an in-depth study on the topic.
How are the bodies treated?
The companies brochure, prominently displayed in funeral parlors around Las Vegas shows a couple clasping hands. Above the comforting image is a promise: “Providing Options in Your Time of Need.”
The company seemed to offer grieving families a better option; a way to eliminate expensive funeral costs.
However, outside of the companies warehouse, it became clear that it was not a better option. In the fall of 2015, neighboring began complaining about a “mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster,” reported Reuters.
Local authorities eventually sent a health inspector to look at the situation. What they found was disturbing.
“Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun,” said Reuters.
The atrocities continued. As he sprayed the remains, bits of human blood and tissue washed into the gutters. The remains ended up pooling across the street by a technical school.
“Southern Nevada, the inspectors learned, was a so-called body broker, a company that acquires dead bodies, dissects them and sells the parts for profit to medical researchers, training organizations and other buyers,” explained Reuters. “The torso on the gurney was being prepared for just such a sale.”
Every year, people believe they are donating to science, but many are contributing to commerce. They’re also apart of a market that isn’t regulated.
“No federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education,” clarified Reuters. “Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.”
Reuters spoke to Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She described the current situation as similar to grave robbers in the 19th century.
“I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough,” McArthur said. “What they are doing is profiting from the sale of humans.”
Should we not donate bodies to science?
However, it’s a difficult subject. While you don’t want your body mistreated, donated bodies do play an essential role in medical education. They’re used for training new doctors, nurses, and dentists, and for researching new techniques, treatments, and medicines.
“The need for human bodies is absolutely vital,” said Chicago doctor Armand Krikorian, past president of the American Federation for Medical Research, who referenced a potential cure for Type 1 diabetes developed by examining pancreases from body donors. “It’s a kind of treatment that would have never come to light if we did not have whole-body donation.”
Who can purchase your body parts?
In most states, anyone can legally purchase body parts. Reuters say they were able to purchase a cervical spine and two human heads with just a few emails.
There are 34 body brokers in the United States; 25 of those are for-profit corporations. In three years, one for-profit broker earned at least $12.5 million.
Additionally, when a body is donated, few states govern the dismemberment. That means both bodies and body parts can be sold and leased—again and again.
“As a result, it can be difficult to track what becomes of the bodies of donors, let alone ensure that they are handled with dignity,” says Reuters.
Are the bodies being treated with dignity?
“There are no real rules,” said Thomas Champney, a University of Miami anatomy professor who teaches bioethics. “This is the ultimate gift people have given, and we really need to respect that.”
However, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Reuters reported that the U.S. Army used more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker in blast experiments. This happened without the consent of the deceased or next of kin.
“Some donors or their families had explicitly noted an objection to military experiments on consent forms,” added Reuters.
In Honolulu things were almost worse, if that’s possible. In 2011 and 2012, police were called to storage facilities leased by a body broker. Both times they went, they found decomposing human remains.
“Both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied,”added the news agency.
“Everybody knows that what he did was unethical and wrong,” says Steven Labrash, who directs University of Hawaii’s body donation program. “But did he break any laws? Not the way they are written today.”
Why do people donate?
In 2009, Harold Dillard was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was only 56-years-old.
“He wanted to do the last selfless thing he could do before he died, and so he donated his body,” said his daughter, Farrah Fasold.
But that doesn’t mean the father and daughter weren’t approached by body brokers. While he lay dying, Fasold says employees from Albuquerque broker Bio Care made them a heartfelt pitch.
“The generous gift of his body to science would benefit medical students, doctors and researchers. Fasold said Bio Care cited several sample possibilities, including that her father’s body might be used to train surgeons on knee replacement techniques,” shared Fasold.
However, after his death, that heartfelt plea turned out to be nothing but a sales pitch. It took weeks longer than promised to receive her father’s ashes. When they arrived, they looked like sand. On examination, they proved to be just that.
“In April 2010, Fasold was told by authorities that her father’s head was among body parts discovered at a medical incinerator. She also learned – for the first time, she said – that Bio Care was in the business of selling body parts.”
“I was completely hysterical,” she said. “We would have never have signed up if they had ever said anything about selling body parts—no way. That’s not what my dad wanted at all.”
Authorities reported things that would add to her distress. Inside Bio Care’s warehouse, they found 127 body parts belonging to 45 people. They appeared to have been dismembered with a chainsaw.
The authorities also ultimately recovered the other body parts of Fasold’s father. They were returned to her for proper cremation.
Have you considered donating your body to science? Let us know in the comments.
In other news, the Mandalay Bay Hotel had to turn to a Catholic Priest to combat the evil inside its walls.