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Body Brokers: Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains by [Cheney, Annie]
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Body Brokers: Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains Kindle Edition

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" 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

"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

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

From the Inside Flap

Every year some 30 percent of American corpses are cremated. And as journalist Annie Cheney discovered, no one keeps track of them before they reach their final destination. While the government has tight controls on organs and tissue meant for transplantation, there are myriad other uses for cadavers that receive no oversight whatsoever: parts are used in commercial seminars to introduce new medical gadgetry; torsos are used for stomach-stapling surgery practice; bodies are bought by the U.S. Army for land-mine explosion tests. A single corpse can generate up to $100,000.
Dead bodies, it turns out, are a billion-dollar business. And, as Cheney found, when there's that much money to be made without regulation, there are all sorts of shady (and fascinating) characters employing questionable practices--deception, distraction, and outright theft. Body parts are shipped via FedEx or driven cross-country packed in garden-variety coolers, and the deceased's families are usually entirely unaware. A favorite aunt has donated her body to help train med students at a university, but the school's boom in corpses, paired with budget problems, lead to her sale to a body broker. The cremated remains her family receives may be only a portion of her body, or not her body at all.
Gripping, chilling, and sure to spur media coverage," Body Brokers will make you look at death, and the family-run funeral home down the road, in a whole new way.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 487 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (7 Mar. 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,182,698 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars 30 reviews
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Underground Industry in Body Parts 14 Mar. 2006
By The Spinozanator - Published on Amazon.com
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. Crash dummies are fine, but there's nothing like a body. Some are allowed to rot under varied environmental conditions - rain, sun, hot or cold, with or without clothing, etc., for forensic research. I already mentioned uses by the education and health industries above, and in most cases, the body is used as needed, without regard for niceties. Some are dropped from airplanes to see what height of drop is required to rip off clothing.

How does this treatment differ from a body being cremated when the body, already abandoned by life (or the soul, if you please) has only symbolic value left for the family? That obviously depends on the family.

Cheney doesn't review potential solutions, but it seems to me this deserves ethical study. A good end result might be legalizing the sale of bodies under carefully developed ethical regulations. Informed consent with a specified range of body uses acceptable to the family might be spelled out. Prices always come down when an industry is legitimized, which would be a side benefit.

Cheney spent three years researching for her captivating book. Perhaps her efforts will pave the road toward adequate regulation and supervision of this necessary industry...I hope so.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I hope every member of Congress reads this book 15 Mar. 2006
By Lisa Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
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!
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Written and Misleading 9 July 2006
By Lindsay S - Published on Amazon.com
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.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Creepy but Enlightening ... 5 July 2006
By Kevin Quinley - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dissecting the body trade 14 July 2007
By Debra Hamel - Published on Amazon.com
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.

One comes away from Cheney's book impressed at the apparent extent to which this gruesome business is going on, and impressed also with how many people seem to be able to sleep comfortably at night when they've got a refrigerator full of heads in the next room. It's interesting to note also how efficient the business is: when possible, bodies are dismembered and their parts sold off individually.

"The three of them went on in this way, methodically moving from body to body, part to part. Tyler removed Ronald King's elbows--one slice on the forearm and two swift strokes forward with his saw until the bones snapped in two. Then his hands and knees. One slice on his calf and his thigh, a few cuts of his saw, and the leg came right off. Then his head. Tyler plucked out King's brain like a smooth boiled egg from its shell."

This makes perfect financial sense, of course. Why supply a class full of gynecologists with perfect corpses, for example, when the students can just as well practice on limbless, headless torsos?

"Over the next couple of days, Brown hung around in the conference room, watching the gynecologists as they probed the vaginas of the dead women. When a torso needed adjusting, he noticed, the doctors called on Tyler to help. Tyler gingerly moved the chilly flesh into the right position, raising or lowering it so that the doctors could get a good view. When the dead ladies began to smell, Tyler spritzed them with deodorizer. At the end of the day, he packed them into Igloo coolers. The next morning he brought them out again."

As you can see, Cheney's book is deliciously gruesome in parts.

Body Brokers is readable and seems very well researched. The author documents her sources in the book's notes and bibliography. My only difficulty with it is that, although it's quite short--the narrative ends, a little too abruptly, after 193 pages--it is difficult to keep the names of the various characters and companies straight. (Cheney provides a list of characters at the beginning of the book, but it's still a bit confusing.) Otherwise, Body Brokers is an interesting and certainly an eye-opening read. It could make some people change their minds about leaving their bodies to science.

-- Debra Hamel
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