The Global Cadaver Trade

Recent reports explore how a lack of global regulation and surging demand for remains is driving the unauthorized selling of human parts:

In the Ukraine, for example, the security service believes that bodies passing through a morgue in the Nikolaev district, the gritty shipbuilding region located near the Black Sea, may have been feeding the trade, leaving behind what investigators described as potentially dozens of “human sock puppets” — corpses stripped of their reusable parts. Industry officials argue that such alleged abuses are rare, and that the industry operates safely and responsibly.

Demand is fueled by a startlingly broad range of uses:

A significant number of recovered tissues are transformed into products whose shelf names give little clue to their actual origin. They are used in the dental and beauty industries, for everything from plumping up lips to smoothing out wrinkles. Cadaver bone — harvested from the dead and replaced with PVC piping for burial — is sculpted like pieces of hardwood into screws and anchors for dozens of orthopaedic and dental applications. Or the bone is ground down and mixed with chemicals to form strong surgical glues that are advertised as being better than the artificial variety. “We are pulling out arm bones. We are pulling out leg bones. We are cutting the chest open to pull the heart out to get at the valves. We are pulling veins out from the inside of skin,” [said Chris Truitt, a former RTI employee in Wisconsin]. Whole tendons, scrubbed cleaned and rendered safe for transplant, are used to return injured athletes to the field of play.