I’m Stephanie Innes, a health-care reporter with The Arizona Republic and the USA TODAY Network. I focus on patient safety, hospital quality, consumer experiences and health policy. I’ve exposed patient safety problems with electronic medical records in Arizona hospitals, covered the rape of an incapacitated patient at a local care facility who shocked staff when she gave birth, and have written numerous stories about falling vaccination rates and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

My latest work focuses on the mystery of body donation and the ways bodies are cut up and sold in pieces by for-profit companies. I also explore a cryonics facility, where patients’ bodies are frozen after they die in a way that may allow them to one day live again.

In Arizona, an estimated 4,000 people donate their bodies to science each year -That’s roughly five times the national rate. But right now there’s no local oversight over Arizona businesses that accept “whole-body donations” and sell them, often in parts.

EDIT: Thank you for tuning in! That's all the time I have for now, but I will be checking back to answer more of your questions over the next few days. For more, visit https://www.azcentral.com/in-depth/news/local/arizona-health/2019/06/10/arizona-has-thriving-business-based-whole-body-donations-donate-body-to-science/3579828002/

Proof: https://i.redd.it/wobt48ik8s331.jpg

Comments: 82 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

carolinagirlbec31 karma

I might regret this, but what do the for profit companies use the parts for? If it’s for science, does it matter? (For the record the fact that this is unregulated is terrifying to me but I still want to know more on why.)

ArizonaRepublic59 karma

Hi and thanks for the question!

The short answer is that companies could use the bodies for anything that they want - think dropping dead bodies out of planes, shooting at them and using them as crash test dummies. One lawyer I talked to said when the FBI raided Biological Resource Center there was a bag of genitals from dead people. I have no idea what they were going to be used for. The lawyer didn't either.

There are websites that sell human skulls. So conceivably, your skull could go up for sale online and end up in someone's home with a candle in it.

If it's for science, some people don't care how their body is used. Other people seem to be uncomfortable with the thought of their body being cut into pieces.

ArizonaRepublic44 karma

Since it's so quiet in this Reddit, I'll add another point to that last answer. Some companies very clearly spell out in their consent forms what they will do with the bodies. Others don't.

LifeIsProbablyMadeUp7 karma

Can you specify what you want to be done with your body?

Like. Dropped just inside our atmosphere to see what would happen.

Or something else that would possibly ruin some random person's day.

StephReporter1 karma

My own preference is cremation.

ArizonaRepublic7 karma

And I've also registered as an organ donor.

hanksredditname5 karma

This definitely has the reporter spin to the extremes. Surely dropping them out of planes, shooting them, and using them as crash test dummies is the extreme case but not the norm. After all, all of those uses have highly developed non-human dummy models which an be easily substituted. The more typical use case is for medical student training, development of new medical procedures, testing of new or developing medical devices/equipment/drugs. All of these scenarios will require actual human flesh and there is no substitute for the real thing - animals or models can only get you so far.

ArizonaRepublic6 karma

I could leave out the possibilities of what could happen with cadavers but then I'd wouldn't be doing my job. Truth isn't spin. You can sign up with one of these companies and hope they will use your body for scientific research. But the truth is that it could be used for other things, too. Hope without critical thinking is naivete.

This_Guy_Lurks5 karma

I was a 24hr HAZMAT responder years ago. Got a call one night to the University for an unknown yellow liquid leaking from the wall which just happened to be in the cadaver room.

A room full of bodies on gurneys or tables covered in sheets that appeared to be . . . . . shorter than normal.

That’s right, off with their heads!!!!

These were ostensibly being used to train medical students of course, while the rest I assume winds up in the head shop. Ba dum tss.

(Liquid ended up being a leaky fire supression water pipe with rust inhibitor in it)

ArizonaRepublic3 karma

Thanks for raising this issue. There have been some mismanagement in university programs, too. There were problems at UCLA and at George Washington University, for example, and the head of the program at UCLA was selling cadaver parts as part of a $1.5 million scheme.

Body donation is not well regulated and in states that do have laws, university programs are sometimes included and other times not included. In Arizona, university willed body programs are specifically excluded from the law and some of the body donation companies are not happy about that They say university programs are as vulnerable to mismanagement as the for-profit companies.

serenaosullivan16 karma

Hi Stephanie, I enjoyed reading this article. It made me think of a book I picked up earlier this year, "Stiff" by Mary Roach.

In her book, she mentioned that most bodies donated for science wind up being used for cosmetology students to practice plastic surgery, such as nose jobs or fillers.

Is this also the case in Arizona? If I, an Arizona resident, donate my body to science, will it most likely be be used to help a student practice their nose jobs, or would it most likely be used for another purpose?

ArizonaRepublic9 karma

Hi there and I loved, "Stiff" too! I read it while I was writing the story. And that is a great question. The answer is YES, if you donate your body to science it's very possible parts of you will end up being used for "practice" by surgeons or others who do procedures involving the body. That could include paramedics who need to practice tracheotomies for example. Or cosmetology students if they in some way help out with cosmetic procedures. I did not hear about them specifically but anyone who works on a body can benefit from training on a cadaver, or on part of a cadaver, like a dead person's shoulder or knee.

ArizonaRepublic15 karma

So I'll add some more detail on this issue, too. At least three of the Arizona body donation companies have "event space," which means they have giant rooms that look like ORs and they also have computer screens for teaching purposes. Medical device companies and training programs will rent out this space so that students can learn a specific procedure like a knee replacement. And they can practice on a real human knee.

Sxty83 karma

Why put 'practice' in quotes? They are using them to practice. Putting it in quotes makes it seem like you believe that’s a misleading term for what they are doing.

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

I put practice in quotations because it's surgical training.

PeanutButterRitzBits14 karma

I'm sorry this isn't gaining as much traction as you would have liked. Whereas I found your previous works vitally (heh) important, I just don't get it here.

Why should I care? It occurs to me that 'donating their bodies to science' implies that they simply want to further the 'body' of human research, and they aren't particularly picky or attached to a notion of [traditional, religious] dignity. Hell, if being a crash-test dummy helps study crumple zones, or even minor bumper accidents, isn't that a net positive?

Just to jump your point before you would make it - technology is never advanced enough to replicate meat reaction, so, frankly, if I end up a target practice dummy, and that ends up making less lethal rounds, great?

I assume the response to that will be 'nothing gained' or something a la 'it's JUST target practice, that's all it is!' and I'll counter with this - isn't exploration in other areas more beneficial of your time and effort? It might have a hot 'subject matter', but this really suffers from the same problem as 'not for profit' and 'charitable' donation businesses like Susan Komen, etc - definitions and legislation surrounding specificity.

Very long-winded, but why is this not a chapter in the larger story of getting your state to spell out, through legislation, exactly what qualifies as 'donation'? Or perhaps getting your state lawmakers to identify general 'moral' guidelines about how a business can operate?

ArizonaRepublic11 karma

Arizona already defines body donation versus organ donation. They just don't regulate body donation. Organ donation, on the other hand, is highly regulated.

And it's okay not to care. A lot of people don't care what happens to their body after they die.

yaychristy2 karma

So, can you sign up for both? Donate your organs via the donation process and then have your body sent off for private body donation afterwards?

ArizonaRepublic8 karma

Yes, you can sign up for both. Good to ask the specific company but the for-profit companies I interviewed said sure, sign up for both. The medical schools are a different story. They like to use cadavers that are intact and except for corneas typically don't want their donors to be organ donors.

losian7 karma

I'd guess the idea is that someone probably feels like they're donating to science, progress, not being used to generate profit and pawned off for any random reason.

ArizonaRepublic1 karma

I think people often think their bodies are going to cure a specific disease like Alzheimer's. But most often their body parts like shoulders and limbs are going to medical device companies who make things like knee replacements and hip replacements. Those are helping to advance science, too. That's why it's important to read the consent form and understand the possibly ways your body could be used. It will save your family members grief down the road.

That disconnect between how the bodies are used and what the consumer thought the bodies would be used for was the biggest problem I found, and the reason for legal actions.

Sxty80 karma

That’s the sin here. The reporter is doing her best to make this sound sinister. The bodies are studied or used by students to learn how to work on live bodies without the risk of killing a living test subject. The company selling the bodies make money. Good. Money must be made and storing, preparations and shipping the bodies and parts costs money. They are providing a necessary service. If he author was honest the article would put a positive spin on it to help further science and the quality of life advances that brings.

ArizonaRepublic1 karma

Not sinister. There are positive things that are done with the body parts. But there are also bad actors in the industry and consumers can either be aware of them or not.

IntermittenSeries10 karma

Very interesting. Since there's money in this, would there be any way for my family to cash in on my corpse? Like could they make arrangements to get a share of the money sold from selling my skull on eBay? I'm not a rich man and leaving my family some money would be nice

ArizonaRepublic8 karma

You know, that is a great question. The issue is with "prep" - so companies that buy human bones, and human body parts, typically want them prepared and shipped a certain way. Of course your family could always try Skulls Unlimited. They have a callout on their website, looking for skulls.

ArizonaRepublic4 karma

Here's that "Sell us your skulls" callout: https://www.skullsunlimited.com/pages/sell-us-your-skull

ArizonaRepublic4 karma

Skulls Unlimited has its own bone cleaning program, which uses some kind of beetles I think to clean flesh off of bones.

serenaosullivan8 karma

Hi Stephanie,

Thanks for responding to my previous question. I was just reminded of a story I heard previously on AZ Republic, of how in 2018, the remains of around 127 migrants were found in Arizona.

What happens to these unidentified bodies? The article says they're given autopsies--do you know what happens after that? Where do the bodies go, if so many are found? Do you know if they are ever returned to families, or if they're given burials?

This leads me to a totally different topic. I'm ignorant on laws around dead bodies, so my question might sound dumb, but are there any companies or organizations you've heard of (either legal or illegal) that use the bodies of people who didn't consent for their bodies to be used?

For example, if a person dies and their body is used for organ harvesting or anything like that--is there a black market for these types of services, or is that just something you see in dramatic TV shows?

Thanks again for your time!

ArizonaRepublic5 karma

Wow, excellent questions! You are giving me story ideas. So on the immigrants, the county where the autopsy occurs typically tries to get the body to the family. There is a program with the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office working on that and a movie about the process called "Who is Dayani Cristal?"

Bodies of anyone, including immigrants who die and aren't claimed by any family member, go to the public fiduciary in the county where the death occurs. Every county has a "pauper's grave" where they bury the remains. Some counties hold annual memorial services for them.

As for any company that uses dead bodies and don't have consent to use them - that is against the law. Informed consent applies to any use of a dead body and that's how Biological Resource Center got into trouble. If there are companies doing this illegal activity, I'd like to know about them.

Joks_away5 karma

I've signed up for organ donation once my clogs have been popped, I've assumed always that what remains would be used for medical practice while bodies donated for science would be experimented on. If science donated bodies are getting practiced on what becomes of organ donated bodies?

By the way I'm a Brit and am curious as to how much if at all the system over here differs from what you deal with.

ArizonaRepublic4 karma

By the time most of us die, we're not really in good enough shape or young enough to be organ donors. But if you are registered as an organ donor and your organs are used, your body is returned to your family - they can dispose of it any way they wish - cremation, burial etc.

lenerz2 karma

Do you see a lot of dead bodies because of your work or do you tend to stay on the outside looking in type thing?

If yes, then how do you feel around bodies from the perspective of someone studying what happens to them in relation to morality and body dignity? (That's the vibe I get from your work, respect for the human that was given to the body that died, etc.)

Also, what motivated you to go into this field of work? It's very interesting! Thank you for posting this!

ArizonaRepublic7 karma

I have seen dead bodies numerous times in the course of my work. The first time I will never forget - I got to a plane crash before the paramedics and saw three people who had died in the crash lying in a field. I have since seen more bodies, and for this story I saw wrapped body parts, including heads, spines, and fingers.

I was impressed with the medical school programs I interviewed - Midwestern and the University of Arizona - in the sense that they do memorial services for their cadavers and the students seem to form a connection with the cadaver as a "patient."

lenerz4 karma

I'm happy that there are people like you, doctors, nurses, paramedics, crime scene cleaners, etc., that exist because even reading your comment gave me shivers and made me feel disturbed.

It's good there are people that can be calm and objective around the dead. I cannot.

Thank you for answering & I wish you good luck in your future works!

ArizonaRepublic5 karma

Thanks for your great questions! I confess that when I went to the Banner Sun City Research Center and saw individual eyes and brain pieces, I couldn't eat for the rest of the day.

dogfriend2 karma

Mary Roach talks about 'body farms' where cadavers are studied for more information about death and decomposition. Are only a few donated bodies used for this, and could a prospective donor actually request that their 'donation' be used for this purpouse?

ArizonaRepublic7 karma

Yes, a donor could request a specific use for their body. The best way to ensure that would be to contact the body farm directly. I did not encounter any body donation business that sold to body farms, though some of the consent forms had very general language that would give them leeway to do so.

The problem with the companies is they will not promise or tell you exactly where your body parts are going - that is something they made very clear,

cKerensky2 karma

I've always presumed in the Cryonics field, those companies give no assurances, so what exactly happens if the company goes belly up? Do they find another company to take over? If not, do they just cremate the bodies?

ArizonaRepublic5 karma

Another great question. The fee at Alcor, the company I reported on, asks "members" to pay $200,000 for full body freezing, or $80,000 for head only. A percentage of that goes into a "patient trust" that earns interest with the intent of keeping the company going in perpetuity. The company operates like a family and says it is always bringing in younger people to keep it up. But frankly, if the company goes belly up then there would be no one to pay for the expensive storage of those bodies. They did not share with me what would happen in that case as they do not believe it will happen. In the event it did, there would no doubt be lawsuits.

Synopticz1 karma

Since Chatsworth, there is a long history in cryonics that people who are cryopreserved at one company are transferred to another if that company has to shut down. For example, this happened with all of CryoSpans's patients, such as James Gallagher. They were transferred to either Alcor or Cryonics Institute.




ArizonaRepublic1 karma

Great information, thanks for sharing!

TheHandOfKarma2 karma

Do you know if the system in Hong Kong works in a similar fashion? Thank you!

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

I don't know how other countries handle whole body donation, but I would like to know. Phoenix-based Science Care says they are the largest body donation company in the world because so many countries aren't doing this.

HasHands1 karma

Hi Stephanie!

I didn't realize there were so few full body donations; I always just assumed there were more for some reason.

My question is regarding your personal views on body donation. Will you be donating your body when you die and regardless of answer, what is / are the major contributing factor(s) for your choice? Would your choice change if you knew exactly what your body would be used for?

Thanks for posting today! You sent me down a very deep rabbit hole of something I never really thought about.

ArizonaRepublic1 karma

I am registered as an organ donor. I have not signed up with one of the body donation companies. But I do understand why some people find it to be a good option.

[deleted]1 karma

Wait why is ANY one donating their body to a for profit company ???

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

Some people don't care what happens to their body after they die .And since the companies take bodies away and cremate the remains for free, there is also a financial incentive. Mom and dad can sign up and their kids don't have to worry when the time comes about what to do when their parent dies. There are definitely selling points with these companies.

GodzillaMarketer1 karma

How does someone sign up to donate their body to science? I feel like people say they want to do this but when it comes to making it happen, I have no idea how.

ArizonaRepublic1 karma

Great question. Most states have at least one medical school with a body donation program. And the larger companies like Science Care and Research for Life are easy to find online. You can even sign up online with them.

twentybrink1 karma

Why is Arizona's body donation rate so much higher than the rest of the country? Is there some sort of recruitment happening to get people to donate or sell their bodies?

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

Ah, good question. There are a few things going on here.

First, a lot of Arizonans are from other places and we have a much higher-than-average cremaiton rate. So the more likely you are to cremate, the more likely you are to be a body donor.

The other thing going on here is, as you pointed out, a lot of marketing in Arizona. That's because Arizona has four body donation companies, including Science Care and Resarch for Life, which are two of the largest in the country. Science Care claims it is the largest body donation company in the world and it has an extremely large network of people doing outreach in hospices and funeral homes.

meothe1 karma

I might have missed this somewhere, but what are some differences in the way AZ treats body donation vs the rest of the US? Thank you for doing this AMA.

ArizonaRepublic1 karma

Most states aren't regulated, so Arizona isn't really all that different. The difference is that we have four companies located here, including two very large for-profit body donation businesses - Science Care and Research for Life.

We also have a large population of senior citizens who are from elsewhere and want to be cremated. Some would say they are also more vulnerable to the sales pitch from a body donation company. Many of the seniors want their bodies to be put to a positive use and since they are going to be cremated anyway, signing up as a body donor seems like a good idea.

Thanks for the question!

Nightgauntling1 karma

What sort of laws do you think should exist in regards to regulation? I know this is a general question, but I wasn't certain if you were for regulation or against regulation.

Additionally, I am fascinated by bodies and the way they work. Before health issues prevented me from finishing my degree I had wanted to go into biomedical engineering. I attempted to attend autopsies and was denied as I was not a med student. Do you have any information or advice on such a thing, or is that too far removed from your day to day?

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

I don't have an opinion about regulation. What I was hoping to achieve by reporting on this industry is to let consumers know they have options, but to read the fine print and know what they are signing up for. Sometimes when people hear "body donation" they think it's like organ donation but it's not. There is a big difference.

iswallowedafrog1 karma

Speaking of rape, how many people of those 4.000 people that donate their bodies are known to been sexually abused, and does caring for dead bodies attract or does it create a new generation of necrophiliacs?

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

I did not come across any accusations or rumors of necrophilia in my research.

scoobledooble3141591 karma

Hi!! Could you speak on organ donation upon death? I know these companies are usually classified as non-profits but they have to pay their bills too. Do they get paid for the organs like the surgeon gets paid for the surgery?

ArizonaRepublic2 karma

Body donation companies are not the same as organ donation. It's illegal to sell organs for transplant into another living human.

It's not illegal to sell an arm or a leg or any other body part that's not going to be transplanted into another living human.

FreyaFailsAtLife1 karma

There’s a difference between donating your body to research and donating your organs to be used in transplants. Both are very noble, and both are very necessary.

If people are donating their bodies for research/medical education, what might happen to their body that, in your opinion, they wouldn’t reasonably expect?

ArizonaRepublic3 karma

This is a very good question. If someone reads the consent form and asks all the right questions, an ethical company will not do anything with that person's body that they wouldn't expect.

The problems run both ways. Sometimes consumers are in a compromised emotional state because they are dying or a loved one is dying and they don't fully understand whole body donation and maybe don't read the consent form.

So the consumers I've interviewed who have not been happy with the process have been upset that their loved one was dismembered and sold, and in a few cases, used by the Department of Defense for vehicle safety and ballistics testing. In some cases those consumers did give consent for those things to happen, but they did not understand what they signed.