Please note: this article isn’t suitable for the squeamish, nor is it designed to offend anyone – it simply serves to raise an important issue concerning death from a practical and environmental viewpoint.
Like many people, I’m an organ donor. It’s nice to know when I’ve worn out this shell, parts of me could save the life of another person or improve it.
But once any suitable organs have been harvested (and even some of those won’t be), there is still going to be a fair chunk of me left that will need to be buried, burned or otherwise disposed of. As I’ve mentioned in another article, death can be a very environmentally harsh exercise, particularly in western cultures. There’s always the option of a natural burial, but this can be expensive.
What happens to our bodies after death sprang to mind again today after reading an article about black market human body parts. It seems corpses are in big demand for all sorts of applications that can benefit others aside from traditional organ transplants.
For example, human bone can be ground up, turned into glue and used in dental surgery. Skin can be used for burns victims. Even fat has its uses and we have plenty of that to go around. Tendons can give people back more mobility.
Even a body damaged by disease or injury can be worth a decent chunk of change.
According to a slideshow on CNBC, body parts have the following value when acquired legitimately; and most of this is just in relation to research or as practice for surgeons looking to hone their skills on the dead rather than the living:
Spine: $900 (research/testing)
Hand and Forearm: $385 (surgery practice)
Shoulder: $500 (surgery practice)
Heart: $500 (surgery practice)
Corneas: $6,000/pair (transplant)
Kidneys: $300-500 (surgery practice)
Head: $6,000 (surgery practice)
Brain: $600 (surgery practice)
Knees: $650 each (surgery practice)
Tendons: $1,000 each (transplant)
I read elsewhere a corpse can be worth anything up to $300,000 when divvied up – again, legitimately.
While research and surgery practice doesn’t exactly count as recycling as the bits will still be disposed of after whatever poking, prodding, slicing and dicing is done; from what I can gather, just about every part of the human body can be recycled in one way or another – and I’m not referring to soylent green.
I was considering locating my nearest friendly tissue broker, talking revenue share and signing up (on the understanding he/she wouldn’t do anything to speed up my demise) – but of course it’s not that simple. Part of the price tag on human body parts has to do with scarcity, complexity and legal headaches surrounding procuring and distributing them.
In many countries, the donor’s family receiving any cash is entirely out of the question as it is illegal. Everyone else benefits financially though (aside from the recipient), which hardly seems fair.
Even the legitimate procurement of human body parts (aside from recognised organ donation programs) is a little on the seedy side at times and families often aren’t aware that others are becoming rich through the “recycling” of their loved one. It shouldn’t be this way.
In the black market scenario, the donor’s family usually doesn’t receive a cent either – they aren’t even aware the person has been “harvested”.
This can all be avoided. There is plenty of demand, there is plenty of potential supply and unlike so many other black market products; much good can be done. Recycling human body parts is an industry that should be encouraged and supported by governments – and properly regulated.
There are 7 billion of us on this planet now and the chances are pretty darned good each one of us is going to die at some stage. As I mentioned recently, global adult human biomass was estimated to be 287 million tonnes in 2005. When it comes to dealing with that as each of pass from this world, it means a lot of energy consumption and waste in our future even if a small fraction of it is being slung into holes in ornate boxes and taking up space or burned.
While it’s not straightforward and there are pitfalls and dangers, recycling human body parts is a topic that really needs more attention.
If a directive that all our body parts must be recycled became an option, some of us could have another way to leave this world the same way we tried to live in it; with the environment in mind.
(Update: Australians interested in donating organs should register with the Australian Organ Donor Register – it seems that just having ‘organ donor’ indicated on your drivers license isn’t enough in some circumstances. By registering, you can also specify *all* suitable body parts can be donated, including skin and bone tissue. After registering, it’s also important to communicate the fact you have to your loved ones.)