Putting a Price on the American Body

One of our most disturbing businesses in the USA reveals some alarming trends about how the living are treated.

Valentine Wiggin

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Two workers in yellow Hazmat suits transporting a body in a white bag on a stretcher while surrounded by cars
Source: Isaac Quesada on Unsplash

In 2015, you begin to hear complaints of a “mysterious stench” and “odd activity in the courtyard” at a research facility near Las Vegas, Nevada. You know they work with the dead, so this shouldn’t be out of the ordinary, right? When you finally arrive, you are horrified at what you see. In broad daylight, a man in scrubs hoses off a human torso in an attempt to thaw it out. Bits of blood and tissue wash into the gutters past storefronts and accumulate “across the street near a technical school”.

This all sounds like a horror movie or the work of an elaborate crime ring, right? Not exactly. Southern Nevada Donor Services, now defunct, was a well-known body broker. It was not the only operation of its kind either. Body brokers are businesses that sell human bodies and body parts for profit. Many of these establishments obtain bodies by promising poor families a free cremation and promising that their bodies will be used for science.

Although the sale of hearts, kidneys, and tendons for transplant is illegal, there are no other laws that govern the sale of human parts, especially for non-transplant purposes. Known as “non-transplant tissue banks”, body brokers are largely unregulated and some people may not know that these businesses exist at all.

To be clear, I am not against any sort of research that uses human bodies. I firmly believe that, if you want your body to be used to test explosives or for forensic research, you should be able to do that. However, this doesn’t represent most of the deceased used for these tests. Their families, mostly poor and unable to afford funeral services, are exploited and the nature of the research being conducted with the deceased’s body is misrepresented.

This was the case with Jim Stauffer, a man who donated his mother’s, Doris Stauffer’s, body to the Biologic Resource Center in Arizona hoping that it would be used for research on Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. In 2016, Stauffer learned from a Reuters investigation that his mother’s body was used for a US Army research project to test explosives. He sued on the grounds that the Biologic…

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Valentine Wiggin

Death-positive, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-affirming Christian. Gen Z. I hate onions. She/her