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Ashley Tucker
Ashley Tucker

Body Brokers



Delray Beach authorities say body brokers used to target recovering drug users hanging out on the patio of a local Starbucks. The coffee shop restricted access to the patio in 2015, after a meeting with the city officials and the police department. Peter Haden/WLRN hide caption




Body Brokers



Such centers promote reputable therapy, as they entice residents to recruit others by dangling easy money, continue to make drugs available, and fill countless beds through paid body brokers. Residents return again and again, and different facilities may also be used in well orchestrated, financially lucrative returns.


You probably felt pretty good checking the organ donor box on your driver's license application. And the thought of donating your body to science seemed a noble endeavor. After all, you're not going to be using it anymore -- it might as well go to someone in need.


At the same time, you're not able to keep an eye on where your body or organs go after you die. And a new Reuters investigative report claims that cadavers and body parts are being sold in a quasi-black market that's free from regulation or oversight, where so-called "body brokers" can thrive.


While lacking in a legal definition, Reuters defines a body broker as "a company that acquires dead bodies, dissects them and sells the parts for profit to medical researchers, training organizations and other buyers." Body brokers can also cloak themselves in more innocuous sounding terms, according to Reuters:


Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.


Most of those body parts, claims the report, come from the poor, who have often "drained their savings paying for a loved one's medical treatment," and are enticed by the offer of free cremation, but are unaware the bodies are sold instead.


One would think the treatment of dead bodies would be a highly regulated industry. After all, there are dozens of laws regarding the disposition of corpses and their treatment. But that's not the case, according to Angela McArthur, director of the University of Minnesota Medical School's body donation program. "The current state of affairs is a free-for-all," McArthur, told Reuters. "We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago."


The report describes awful behavior on the part of body brokers, and few legal remedies for their misdeeds. Without laws in place against this kind of mistreatment, law enforcement and families are left with little recourse:


As there is not enough altruism in the world to supply the insatiable demand for body parts, morally dubious or criminal elements step in. Carney investigates, for example, how the human egg trade in Cyprus exploits poor women from eastern Europe. He also uncovers and carries the distressing news from India to the United States that the adopted son of a midwestern family was stolen from his biological mother while her back was momentarily turned in a Chennai slum.


The global industry in body parts exploits the varied regulations and economic conditions in different countries. The fact that body parts have often travelled across continents also obscures their source. By the time an Indian child's papers reach an adoption agency in the United States, for example, there is often no easy way of verifying whether that child was given up voluntarily.


Banning organ commerce will not help, Carney says, because the red market would be driven further underground and the poorest would continue to supply it in return for risible fees. Nor will fully embracing the market work, as demand will rise alongside supply. Physicians will find new indications for transplants as more organs become available, and as they hold out hope for ever-smaller improvements in the lives of very sick patients. A third option, to grow synthetic body parts, is appealing but remains science fiction for now.


When Wood asks him if he wants a job, Utah accepts, finding himself falling into the ethical and legal quicksand of body brokering, churning addicts through rehab with no interest other than the huge payouts their schemes deliver.


Under Obamacare, insurers had to cover drug treatment, a good thing. But as money flowed into the industry, shady operators realized they could churn addicts through a revolving door, using field reps known as body brokers to cash in on the same individuals over and over again.


Mitchell packed several donated cadavers from Washington state on dry ice in a U-Haul truck and transported them to Arizona. In December 2020, he dumped at least two dozen body parts in the Prescott National Forest. Hunters and a couple collecting firewood discovered the heads, arms and legs soon after at two separate dump sites.


An audacious, disturbing, and compellingly written investigative exposé of a little known aspect of the "death care" world: the lucrative business of procuring, buying, and selling human cadavers and body parts.


Body Brokers is an audacious, disturbing, and compellingly written investigative exposé of a little known aspect of the "death care" world: the lucrative business of procuring, buying, and selling human cadavers and body parts. 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 (and fascinating) characters who are willing to employ questionable practices—from deception and outright theft -- to acquire, market, and distribute human bodies and parts. In Michigan and New York she discovers funeral directors who buy corpses from medical schools and supply the parts to surgical equipment companies and associations of surgeons. In California, she meets a crematorium owner who sold the body parts of people he was supposed to cremate, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits. In Florida, she attends a medical conference in a luxury hotel, where fresh torsos are delivered in large coolers and displayed on gurneys in a room normally used for banquets. "That torso that you're living in right now is just flesh and bones. To me, it's a product," says the New Jersey-based broker presiding over the torsos. 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. Gripping, often chilling, and sure to cause a reexamination of the American way of death, Body Brokers is a captivating work of first-person reportage.


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...continued


I have carried a donor card for more than 20-years and plan to always do so - but, I have to say thatBody Brokers has given me pause for thought. I anticipated that if my body was no longer needed by me that it could be of help to other people, but now that it looks like I could simply be handing it over to be sold to the highest ...


Rathburn and cadaver dealers in Arizona and Illinois are suspected of dismembering human bodies without the consent of donors, lying to their families about how the bodies would be used, and secretly selling the body parts to medical researchers, who use them for everything from surgical training and medical device development to paste for periodontal surgery or screws to hold fractured bones in place, federal court records show.


The FBI notes in court documents that most body parts do get used for medical research and training. But the growing demand for body parts in the constantly evolving medical world has created a gray-black market in which body brokers are crossing both legal and ethical lines to meet this high demand.


Now, authorities in Arizona say they're helping the FBI connect the dots and show how body parts moved between Illinois, Arizona and Michigan, made the dealers money, and without the donors' families ever knowing.


  • The head of an Illinois man whose mother had no idea her son's body would be dismembered and sold.

  • The head, with the brain removed, of an Illinois woman whose husband would not have donated her body had he known she would be dismembered.

  • The head, right shoulder and leg portions of another woman whose son told the FBI he was never told that "the body of his mother would be cut into pieces and sold for profit."



The grisly discovery in Detroit triggered more raids across the country. Two cadaver businesses were shut down, including Rathburn's. Thousands more body parts were seized. Numerous families of the deceased were interviewed, with many relatives saying they had no idea their loved ones' bodies would be dismembered and sold for profit. And had they known that, records show, they never would have donated their loved ones' bodies to science. 041b061a72


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