Investigative journalist Cheney exposes the gruesome workings of a covert business that has grown up to supply the medical world’s increasing demand for human body parts.
The author here expands to book length her March 2004 Harper’s article about the cadaver trade. Bodies donated for medical research may end up being cut apart and sold for profit, she grimly reports. Cheney takes readers to a seminar sponsored by a medical-equipment manufacturer, during which doctors use defrosted human torsos to learn new surgical techniques, and she follows the channels through which body brokers supply heads, knees, elbows, shoulders and other body parts for various uses. She visits a California crematorium whose unscrupulous owner cut apart cadavers scheduled for cremation, then packaged, froze and sold the pieces. The grief of relatives on discovering what has happened to their loved ones is but one of her stories. Equally disturbing is her account of a patient who loses his life after knee surgery involving transplanted bone tissue from an infected cadaver. To round out the picture, she provides a capsule history of corpse procurement featuring the 19th-century “resurrection men” who raided graveyards to provide materials for anatomy classes in Great Britain’s medical schools. Cheney names individuals and companies involved in the trade, and she provides a front-of-the-book list to help the reader keep straight the large cast of both reputable and shady operators. For the curious (or the morbid), she includes a body-parts price list. The going price for a leg, incidentally, ranges from $700 to $1,000.
A fascinating report filled with remarkable details, but definitely not for the squeamish.