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 practicesfrom 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 May 2006, and has been updated for the March 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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