Saturday, December 30, 2017
How Mortuaries, Medicine and Money Have Built a Global Market in Human Cadaver Parts
Medicine’s search for dead bodies with parts available for harvesting is called bioprospecting. It always comes up against an essential supply problem: there are plenty of dead bodies, but how can they be accessed? Getting consent is time-consuming, unpredictable and expensive. For a long time this was dealt with by not bothering to seek it. In 1921, the embryologist Herbert McLean Evans discovered that rats given ‘a soup of anterior lobes’ grew three times heavier than untreated littermates. This was the beginning of the growth hormone craze, which lasted until synthetic growth hormone was developed. Any gland could yield useful hormones; Evans went so far as to stand beneath some gallows and ‘without bothering to take the dead man’s trousers down or waiting for the attending doctor to hold up his hand to indicate that the heart had stopped beating … used scissors and knife to cut off the scrotum’. Evans defended himself by saying he only cut off the testicles of prisoners who were unclaimed by kinfolk. Later, much cadaver stuff was reaped by allowing the person lawfully in charge of the corpse to authorise harvesting if he or she thought there was no objection. To ascertain this, they simply had to make ‘a reasonable enquiry’. In law, mortuaries became a ‘no-place’, where corpses had no rights. Penalties for misuse of bodies were scanty. The UK Human Tissue Act of 1961 didn’t bother to include any penalties for the theft of body parts because the law did not recognise a right of property in the human body.
Posted by Morgan Meis at 09:05 AM | Permalink