The unregulated world of body brokers has been making headlines across the country.
The story is like a scene from a horror film set in a filthy Detroit warehouse. Everywhere you look there are piles of dead flies and insects. There’s no running water in sight.
Caked dried blood is crusted on multiple surfaces and stacks of dead bodies. Severed heads are frozen together haphazardly in pools of blood and bodily fluids.
Is any of this illegal? The frightening thing is, not at all.
Arthur Rathburn, the so-called “body broker”, will be going to prison for nine years. The bodies he routinely dismembered were donated to science. Although his business was conducted in a singularly filthy manner, it wasn’t illegal to conduct it as Rathburn did. Well, not any parts of it that I described.
How the Body Brokers Trade Works
Here’s how the body brokers trade works. Many people who can’t afford to pay for mortuary expenses after the death of a loved one or those who are planning for their death and know they can’t afford to be buried or cremated can donate their bodies to science.
The donation is possible through laws like the Anatomical Gift Act. It establishes how anatomical donations are made. You can also do so for any personal reason, such as the desire to contribute to science, like Randolph Wright of Illinois. He donated his body to the Biological Resource Center of Illinois when he died of ALS, in hopes that it would contribute to a cure being found.
However, what ended up happening was much more gruesome. Parts of his body were sold to a for-profit medical instrument company. His head ended up in one of those stacks, which was discovered by the FBI during a raid in 2013.
Rathburn, a formerly licensed funeral director, and his wife ran International Biological Inc., whose main service involved the buying of cadavers and body parts donated to science through companies like the Biological Resource Center of Illinois. Then, they sold them to medical “courses” all over the United States and the world.
Rathburn’s company and many companies like his make huge profits from the sales. International Biological, Inc. made $2.7 million between 2000 and 2013, which represented only 17% of the company’s total revenue.
How Rathburn Broke the Law
What Rathburn did wrong was not, as you might expect, to treat cadavers with this level of unconcern. While the gore is uncommon, according to experts, this way of dealing with donated bodies is routine for some companies.
He has been sentenced to prison for fraud – specifically for failing to report that he was selling and renting out bodies that were infected with various diseases, including HIV, to the courses to which he sold them. In addition, the sentencing also meant that he was found guilty of illegally transporting hazardous biological materials.
If you are disturbed by this story, or just interested, you can read more about it on Reuters’ article, The Body Trade.
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