NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Body Parts in Demand for Research

March 18, 2004

It is illegal to sell transplantable organs, even after death. It is also illegal to sell corpses and body parts, which are in growing demand for medical training and research.

However, there is no prohibition on charging for locating, shipping and handling services. Since demand far outstrips supply, prices are rising and there are a growing number of body-parts entrepreneurs.

About 10,000 Americans will their bodies to science each year. When giving their consent, donors or their relatives are often told that the body will be returned for cremation. Nonprofit medical labs that accept such donations keep track of the parts of bodies that are disassembled in order to later reunite them all.

However, there have been a number of cases of bodies being illegally diverted from funeral homes and mortuaries into a black market created by potentially high profits.

Corpses are worth far more cut up than whole.

  • Delivery of an intact cadaver costs as little as $1,000.
  • However, a head alone can cost $500 in processing fees, according to brokers who handle such parts.
  • A torso in good condition can fetch $5,000.
  • A spine goes for as much as $3,500, a knee $650, a cornea $400.
  • In 2002, a pharmaceutical company paid $4,000 for a box of fingernails and toenails.

Todd R. Olson, director of the anatomical donations program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says there is virtually no regulation of interstate traffic in body parts.

Some economists have proposed a private market solution to such biomedical shortages: allowing compensation of some kind to donors or families for the use of such a valuable resource.

Source: John Broder, "In Science's Name, Lucrative Trade in Body Parts," New York Times, March 12, 2004.

For NY Times text's%20Name,%20Lucrative%20Trade%20in%20Body%20Parts&st=cse


Browse more articles on Government Issues