Rationalization of the Body Snatchers

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Michael Mastromarino, the guy who stole and sold the remains of Alistair Cooke (and a thousand other people), was indicted last year. Now the funeral directors who granted Mastromarino access to the dead are going to court:

Three funeral home directors and four former employees of a biomedical supply company secretly removed skin, bone and other body parts from dozens of corpses awaiting cremation at Rochester funeral homes, prosecutors said Thursday.

An indictment unsealed Thursday charges the seven with body stealing, unlawful dissection and other counts. The most serious charges carry maximum 20-year prison sentences.

"Put yourself in the position of one of the family members," said Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green.

Well, we know how the families feel; that's boring. Instead, put yourself in the position of a funeral director with access to any number of about-to-be-cremated bodies. A company called Biomedical Tissue Services approaches you and requests access to remains just before they're placed in the cremator. The families will never know the difference when they get the box of ashes; they can't see the missing femurs or cerebral tissue. The parts will be sold to some biotech company that will transform the remains into a useful medical technology, or to some medical device company that will use the remains to train surgeons. Nobody gets hurt, and some child burn victim–we'll call him Timmy–will get a state-of-the-art skin graft. Do it for science! For Timmy! And, oh yeah, there's that $1000 kickback.

These men should go to jail, but given the rising value of cadaveric tissue and concurrent prohibitions on its trade, black markets in remains seem inevitable. It would surely help if we could all stop pretending that remains are priceless. Or worthless.

More on markets and Mastromarino here.

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  1. If I rememeber correctly, a not insignificant # of the harvested tissues etc. weren’t properly tested either and some that have been transplanted into people have come from potentially tainted/infected donors.

    I remember reading a story about this a year ago where some transplant patient had to be contacted and told that she might be at risk for getting some type of disease from potentially infected tissue that was transplanted.

  2. Everything’s a commodity.

    And, of course, this is yet more evidence that prohibition stops nothing, but only gives rise to questionable black markets.

  3. Thanks David!

  4. The punishment should be harvesting the body parts of the funeral directors.

  5. I’m kinda confused here–is it even an option for people to allow whatever biotech, ect. company to harvest tissue if the cremate-ee or family members want it?

    No question of the legality of these transactions, but I’m just wondering why these bio-med companies would go to such an extent to get tissue.

  6. My feelings about human body commodification aside, I’m not sure the Kerry’s “there’s no point in passing a law that some people won’t follow” philosophy regarding public policy is a very appealing one.

  7. Kerry,

    His last name was missing a part. :0

  8. Barakku,
    “Organ Donor” is the word you are looking for, and yes in most states you can opt to be one legally. This black market issue arises when a)there are too many people waiting for tissues b)not enough volunteer donors to fill that demand and c)no legal monetary enticement that can be given to a prospective organ donor in advance of death. There is money to be made in this business and if it is “illegal”, then it will be black market.

  9. “Put yourself in the position of one of the family members,”

    Yes, lets consider how the family feels about being able to donate Dad’s carcass to a body broker who can turn around and sell it for righteous bucks, but will land in jail if they try to pocket the coin themselves.

  10. “c)no legal monetary enticement that can be given to a prospective organ donor in advance of death.”

    How would this work? You’d sign a contract stating that at your death you relinquish XYZ organs to be used for medical procedures?

    Would these contracts have to include lifestyle clauses? In other words, if you were selling your heart, you’d have to refrain from eating fatty foods, etc?

  11. These men should go to jail, but given the rising value of cadaveric tissue and concurrent prohibitions on its trade, black markets in remains seem inevitable.

    Jesus H Christ…did you have to take so long to say that? I was about to have a conniption fit

  12. Dan T.
    Where did Ms. Howley state that? In fact, if you’d bother reading the post she stated in no uncertain terms,”These men should go to jail”. She isn’t calling for the repeal of laws against unauthorized cadaver parts harvesting as that is theft. What she is asking for is legal right for a person to sell his/her body parts prior to death or as you so eloquently worded it “commodification”.

  13. A person should be able to will their body to their heirs, and the heirs should be able to sell the body for a profit. Until this is the case, I’m taking my parts with me to the grave. Why should the doctors and biomeds profit (as well as the person receiving parts), but not me or my family?

  14. How would this work? You’d sign a contract stating that at your death you relinquish XYZ organs to be used for medical procedures?

    Would these contracts have to include lifestyle clauses? In other words, if you were selling your heart, you’d have to refrain from eating fatty foods, etc?

    Right now, in most states you can sign away any/all of your organs by simply checking a box on the Driver’s License form at the DMV so why not a more formalized contract? I suppose you could also do a pro-rated payout based on the condition of the organs at time of death. The less fatty your liver and the stronger your heart, the more you are worth. In this case, your heirs or your estate would be the recipient of the cash settlement but for some that might be an acceptable arrangement.

  15. The next big thing in torts could be civil suits instigated by hearse-chasing lawyers.

    They can claim alienation of salvation or misprison of damnation for whatever proportion of the victim’s soul resides in plenipotent stem cells that ghoulish funeral directors purloin.

  16. “Jesus H Christ…did you have to take so long to say that? I was about to have a conniption fit”

    Take a pill, dude.

  17. Renormalizing the status of body snatchers would signify a phase transition from a situation where body parts are “priceless” to one where they have a finite value. We’d go from a disordered black market to a more orderly open market. We could probably even parametrize the order with some quantity. (Perhaps insurance premiums?)

    This would be a first order good thing.

    (If you’re a physics geek you’ll get the joke.)

  18. An interesting point is that in the cremation process, some of the body will not reduce to the “ash” people are expecting and is thrown away anyway.

  19. Dan T.
    Where did Ms. Howley state that…What she is asking for is legal right for a person to sell his/her body parts prior to death or as you so eloquently worded it “commodification”.

    True, but her argument is that one reason we should be allowed to sell body parts is because there will be a black market for them anyway. I wonder if this kind of thinking applies to nuclear warheads and slaves as well?

  20. thoreau,

    Use a phase modulator and a Heisenberg compensator to get the body snatchers back where they belong.

    Make it so.

  21. Dan,

    Since slavery is a human rights violation, no. For nuclear weapons, why not?

  22. tarran, it seems like you’re basically saying “slavery is morally wrong” which I agree but it’s still just a matter of subjective morals.

    After all, I think that the commodification of humans is wrong. Or, a human rights violation if you prefer.

  23. I agree with Dan T.

    These men should go to jail, but given the rising value of cadaveric tissue and concurrent prohibitions on its trade, black markets in remains seem inevitable.

    That statement seems to imply that because there’ll be a black market we should be allowed to sell our body parts.

    I do agree if you plan on going into an incenerator after you die you should be given the option before you die to sell them if you so choose. Of course this would still have to involve some sort of bureaucratic medical testing I’d think.

  24. I guess the most obvious argument against allowing the legal sale of human body parts is that it quickly leads to a scenario where a lot of people are worth more dead than they are alive.

    I don’t think we need to give people a financial motivation to commit murder. And history has shown that people will murder for money.

  25. I don’t think we need to give people a financial motivation to commit murder. And history has shown that people will murder for money.

    According to your logic, we should outlaw life insurance.

  26. After all, I think that the commodification of humans is wrong.

    And that’s fine, but not at all the same thing as commodification their constituent parts.

    After all, I can sell my hair to make wigs. Is that a violation of my human rights?

  27. “And history has shown that people will murder for money.”

    Really?

    History showed me that, since I failed to learn from it, I had to repeat it.

    Along with Practical Math and Home Ec.

    Your history class seems like a lot more fun.

  28. Ah. The Return of the Resurrection Men.

  29. You should be allowed to sell YOUR body parts because YOU own YOURSELF. Period. This is the same argument for drug legalization, bungee jumping, legalized suicide, stock car racing, birth control, mountain climbing, tatoos, boob jobs, trans-fat consumption and anything else that might even remotely be dangerous to ME. It is also the reason that things like murder and slavery are wrong.

    Please repeat this mantra after me:
    I can do with MYSELF any damn thing I please so long as it does not interfere with YOUR rights to do with YOURSELF any damn thing YOU please.

    Hence, slavery, rape and murder are wrong because I am violating YOUR rights to do what YOU want with YOUR body.

    As for a financial motivation to commit murder, how do you propose that is any different than it is now? It’s not like anybody is calling for a ban on organ transplants. Doctors and organ harvesters are not benevolent. Organs are sold every day, for tens of thousands of dollars. The only person who doesn’t see a dime of it is the person who “donated” them.

    What are your reasons for preventing ME from selling MY body parts and allowing ME to receive money for them?

    Besides, just as you are not in my will and cannot obtain a portion of my estate, even if you kill me, so too would it be if I entered into a contract with an organ harvester to take my kidneys, eyes and heart after my death. You couldn’t just sneak up behind somebody, shoot them, take their heart and be in the legal right. It would still be a) murder and b)illegal harvest of organs (theft) specifically because it interferes in the plans that the murdered individual had for himself and his organs.

  30. According to your logic, we should outlaw life insurance.

    And any sort of inheritance, an so forth. Oh yeah, and logic? Come on. Dan T. is just a contrarian fuckwit.

    Just thinking, I wonder if I should try and take a deduction on all that blood I gave away.

  31. “Just thinking, I wonder if I should try and take a deduction on all that blood I gave away.”

    Probably not a good idea.

    They’d demand payment in kind of the tax on the “income”.

    You owe us 17,847,356,001 corpuscles, pigwiggle.

  32. Kwix, sorry if the world doesn’t revolve around you all the time – would it kill you to consider things from a perspective that doesn’t center around your immediate personal gain?

    It’s pretty obvious that the legalized sale of human body parts would be asking for trouble.

    You think there’s a black market now? Just wait until there are legitmate ways to sell organs. The black market will explode supplying those organs at below, ahem, market value.

  33. It’s pretty obvious that the legalized sale of human body parts would be asking for trouble.

    You think there’s a black market now? Just wait until there are legitmate ways to sell organs. The black market will explode supplying those organs at below, ahem, market value.

    Yeah. Haven’t you noticed the huge black market in bread, meat, vegetables, sofas, chairs, alcohol, medical prosthetics, condoms, etc since they were legalized?

  34. The black market will explode supplying those organs at below, ahem, market value.

    The sheer quantity of economic ignorance packed into that sentence is probably generating a gravitational field.

  35. Are you positing some sort of ignorlarity?

  36. LOL

    The black market will explode supplying those organs at below, ahem, market value.

    The sheer quantity of economic ignorance packed into that sentence is probably generating a gravitational field

    RC Dean, that was the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Thanks.

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