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Body Brokers: Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains Hardcover – March 7, 2006


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*Starred Review* Here's one with the potential to keep folks up nights, wondering whether the urn on the mantel contains 100-percent Uncle Fred or a blend. Before journalist Cheney began an assignment for My Generation magazine, she had never suspected there might be diverse career opportunities for cadavers, that whatever one wants to be when one grows up, options continue to exist postmortem. But consider the ever-popular organ donor program. And then there's the option of donating one's body to a medical school for the betterment of mankind through science. Once that latter choice is made, Cheney learned, alternatives multiply, and a corpse can follow one of several roads. On a lower thoroughfare, big bucks are waiting for the cold-blooded entrepreneur ready to carve human bodies up like chickens and parcel them out to the highest bidder for such uses as military bomb test dummies, lifelike operative subjects for medical seminars, and resource troves for the machine-tooling of bones into orthopedic apparatus. Even if one never willingly donates one's body, there are enough unscrupulous morticians and morgue workers who will surreptitiously carve out an ulna or a femur and replace it with a PVC pipe, then sell the goods on the not-so-open open market. This is a chilling expose of the grisly industry of body trading. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

“Horrifying! Annie Cheney’s account is meticulously reported and compellingly written. She uses details to anchor scenes visually and then pushes the reader to visualize the entrepreneurial manipulation of corpses—their dismemberment, sale and use—as both gruesome and matter-of-fact. She backs up her narrative with research into history, literature and crime.”

Society of Professional Journalists 2005 Featuring Reporting Award, judges’ citation
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; First Edition edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767917332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767917339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In graphic detail, Cheney explains the lucrative world of trade in bodies and body parts. What are corpses used for? - surgical training, anatomical studies in med schools and seminars (which I have participated in), human tissue grafts (bone, cartilage, heart valves, corneas) placed intra-operatively, forensic studies, accident re-enactments - legitimate uses that make us all better off. The jist of Cheney's book is the procurement process - shot full with questionable methods and unsavory characters.

The sale of bodies is illegal in the United States but "expenses" incurred in handling the body can be re-imbursed. When handled creatively, a corpse can run up quite an expense - say, $10,000 or even much more.

Some individuals or families donate their own or a loved one's body to a medical school, which then may - legally - pass (expense) this body on to a body broker. A funeral director may offer poor families free cremation as an incentive in return for consent to use the body for research. Of course, once the body goes to the body broker, the parts may eventually be disposed of by cremation, but the funeral director will have no way of tracking this information for the family. The body parts are piecemealed out to the highest bidders - usually legitimate users who have no idea or interest in where the parts came from. Neglecting to offer specific consent leaves the family in the dark as to how the body of their loved one was put to use.

Cheney masterfully exposes the unscroupulous practices surrounding this thriving underground industry, but she doesn't dwell on the benefits to society. To get this information, you might consider reading "Stiff," by Mary Roach. Auto-crash bodies have helped fine-tune seat belts and airbags.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Carlson on March 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
With fortitude that few could muster, Cheney unshrouds the secret trade in cadaver parts. A compelling read I couldn't put down. Yes, the dead can help the living, but Cheney's expose' reveals the lack of regulation--to make it safe and to limit profiteering in a black market.

Those of us in the funeral consumer movement have been aware of this for some time but have been unable to move legislators to do anything. We're hoping Annie's book will make the difference.

Lisa Carlson

Author, "Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love"

Executive Director, Funeral Ethics Organization

P.S. I'd bet the one-star reviews are from people in the body parts business!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By T. Niles on July 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is nothing more than the extension of a magazine article and the author's process of going through the research in writing it. She provides little substance to allow outsiders to fully understand the myriad issues involved in the use of human remains and instead chooses to sensationalize poorly researched facts. By doing so she does a disservice to the thousands of hard working people who are trying to pass on the gift of life to help others - whether through cadaveric training or tissue donation. There are much better books out there for people who are truly interested in learning about this industry. See M. Goodwin's book for instance.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Cheney's expose is long on critique and short on solutions. A disturbing (but somewhat over-long)disclosure of practices that seem sordid. Don't the dead deserve better treatment than what she depicts? What are the solutions? Don't expect themhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on July 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A human head might bring in seven or eight hundred dollars, a spine at least as much again. Shoulders, knees, bones, brains, various viscera--pretty much every part of a dead body can be sold off if the corpse is fresh enough. The demand for material is high: medical schools and medical device companies and surgical skills workshops need bodies or body parts for dissection, and willed body programs don't produce enough corpses to go around. That's why, shocking though it is, there is apparently a robust underground trade in human remains--in the U.S., in the present day.

Annie Cheney explores the gruesome subculture of modern-day body snatchers in her book Body Brokers, which grew out of an award-winning article she wrote on the subject for Harper's. She discusses in detail how bodies en route to their final resting places can be harvested for parts--by pathologists' assistants, for example, or corrupt funeral directors, or crematorium operators. She discusses also the various markets for body parts, including institutions that need bodies for instructional dissection as well as factories that transform human tissue into products--"injectable bone paste" and the sorts of things you might find in Home Depot, screws and dowels and wedges, except that they're made out of human bone. ("It's all precision tooled....") Cheney also provides a chapter on the "Resurrection Men" of the 19th century, men who, like their modern-day counterparts, did the dirty work of supplying corpses for a price. But the Resurrectionists usually had to dig up fresh graves to get their material.
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