HARVESTERS OF DEATH The ‘body brokers’ making a killing selling human corpses ‘like 19th century grave robbers’ Private companies have made millions chopping up and selling bodies donated to science in the US – some from poor families who cannot afford a funeral. WARNING. By Felix Allen and Reuters agency. PRIVATE companies have made millions from chopping up and selling human bodies that have been donated to science in the US, an investigation reveals. Doctors compared the unregulated body broker firms to 19th century grave robbers after horrific details emerged of remains being desecrated, sent to waste incinerators and even dumped at the roadside. Bodies are donated, often by families who cannot afford a funeral. Funeral homes who have deals with the brokers promise the ashes will be returned after some body parts have been removed for research. But some families say they do not realise the bodies could be roughly sliced up with chainsaws, with parts sold or even RENTED to customers such as research institutes and companies running medical seminars. The lucrative trade emerged in an investigation by the Reuters news agency, whose reporters were able to buy a human spine and two whole heads in Tennessee after a simple exchange of emails. They also uncovered horrific details of a suburban warehouse used by one company in Las Vegas called Southern Nevada Donor Services. Neighbours complained about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a dumpster, and one contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard. Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso laid out on a trolley in the midday sun. As the man sprayed the remains with the hose, “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters,” a state health report said. The stream weaved past shopfronts and pooled across the street near a school. But the only resulting criminal charge was for a minor pollution offence, as it turns out there are no laws in most US states to govern how body brokers handle remains – and anyone can legally purchase body parts. Many brokers operate in near anonymity, quietly making deals to obtain cadavers and sell the parts. Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said: “The current state of affairs is a free-for-all. “We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago. “I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough. What they are doing is profiting from the sale of humans.”. Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff said: “There is a big market for dead bodies. “We know very little about who is acquiring these bodies and what they are doing with them. Donated human tissue is vital for training doctors and nurses and for developing new medical products such as surgical implants. Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market. Reuters identified 34 body brokers active across America, 25 of them for-profit corporations and nine no-profit organisations. One firm earned at least $12million in three years from selling human tissue. Meanwhile data from just four states show that in the years 2011-2015 private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts. Permits from Florida and Virginia offer a glimpse of how some of those parts were used. A 2013 shipment to a Florida orthopaedic training seminar included 27 shoulders. A 2015 shipment to a session on carpal tunnel syndrome in Virginia included five arms. As with other commodities, prices for bodies and body parts fluctuate with market conditions. Generally, a broker can sell a donated human body for about $3,000 to $5,000, though prices sometimes top $10,000. But a broker will typically divide a cadaver into six parts to meet customer needs. Internal documents from seven brokers show a range of prices for body parts: $3,575 for a torso with legs; $500 for a head; $350 for a foot; $300 for a spine. Concerns have also been raised over the way some companies have behaved. In 2004, a federal health panel unsuccessfully called on the US government to regulate the industry. Since then, more than 2,357 body parts obtained by brokers from at least 1,638 people have been misused, abused or desecrated across America, Reuters found. Last December, Reuters reported more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker were used in US Army blast experiments – 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. In another case, Detroit body broker Arthur Rathburn is scheduled to stand trial in January for fraud, accused of supplying unsuspecting doctors with body parts infected with hepatitis and HIV for use in training seminars. In Honolulu, police were called twice to storage facilities leased by body broker Bryan Avery in 2011 and 2012. Each time, they found decomposing human remains. Both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied. Steven Labrash, who directs University of Hawaii’s body donation program, said of the Avery case: “Everybody knows that what he did was unethical and wrong. “But did he break any laws? Not the way they are written today. Walt Mitchell, a Phoenix businessman involved in the startup of three brokers, said one reason the industry attracts entrepreneurs is that businesses can profit handsomely from selling a donated product. He said: “If you can’t make a business when you’re getting raw materials for free, you’re dumb as a box of rocks. Even so, a third of the 34 brokers Reuters identified went bankrupt or failed to pay their taxes, according to court filings. When failing businesses in the industry cut corners to save money, the consequences for the families of donors can be emotionally wrenching. Harold Dillard, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was diagnosed with terminal cancer the day after Thanksgiving in 2009. His daughter Farrah Fasold said: “He was 56 years young, active, healthy, had a great life, and one night – bam!. “He wanted to do the last selfless thing he could do before he died, and so he donated his body. Bio Care – which promised his gift would help train surgeons – sent her sand instead of her fathers ashes. And then she was horrified when 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.”. Inside Bio Care’s warehouse, authorities said they found at least 127 body parts belonging to 45 people. “All of the bodies appeared to have been dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument, such as a chainsaw,” a police detective wrote in an affidavit. Bio Care owner Paul Montano was charged with fraud. But prosecutors later withdrew the charge saying they could not prove deception or any other crime. Fasold said she is surprised that the law hasn’t been changed to protect relatives. She said of the body broker industry: “They could have done something long ago, passed new laws. It’s just so shady and devious.”.