BookBrowse Reviews Body Brokers by Annie Cheney

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Body Brokers

Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains

by Annie Cheney

Body Brokers by Annie Cheney X
Body Brokers by Annie Cheney
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 240 pages

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An audacious, disturbing, and compellingly written investigative exposé of the American trade in body parts

From the book jacket: 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 characters who are willing to employ questionable practices—from deception and outright theft -- to acquire, market, and distribute human bodies and parts. .... 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.

Comment: Investigative journalist Cheney's book began as an award-winning article in Harper's Magazine in 2004. In this full length book she leaves no stone (or should that be bone) unturned - such as traveling to the banqueting rooms of up-market hotels where companies such as Johnson & Johnson hold training seminars using flash-frozen corpses, and visiting a crematorium where the unscrupulous owner cuts up bodies scheduled for cremation and packages the pieces for resale, irrespective of what the person died of. Then there is the other side of the story, the patients who have lost their lives due to infections from the body parts used to treat them, for example a patient who dies because his knee surgery used transplanted bone tissue from an infected cadaver.

Cheney's investigations of both the reputable and crooked dealers create a fascinating but decidedly morbid work that covers some of the same ground as Mary Roach's Stiff - but digs deeper into the shady side of the American trade in body parts.

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This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2006, and has been updated for the March 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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