What is Your Body Worth? Price List Discovered

March 1, 2011
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imageYour nose. Your ear. Your arm. Your leg. Name any body part, and there’s a virtual price tag on it.

Some specialty companies process bodies donated to science. They distribute non-transplantable tissues and organs to research facilities, who may use them legally for anything from teaching to biological research. Eventually, the parts will wind up cremated.

Rudy Thomas, who runs the Arizona State Funeral Board, said it’s a lucrative business. He added that federal law prohibits the sale of body parts, so donor companies charge a “service fee” instead.

“It’s all about processing, administrative fees. They can charge for the administration of these fees, packaging, shipping, transporting, harvesting, and that’s all legal,” Thomas explained.

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Steve Gore heads the Phoenix-based donor company, Biological Resource Center. Gore said it’s all legal and all legit.

“I think most people understand that this is a business. You know, it’s a business unlike any other, but as a business we still have employees. We have to keep the lights on,” Gore said. “The cost of cremation and filling the death certificate and transportation of the body–that’s all picked up by the organizations. That’s part of our overhead. That’s part of what we do.”

However, discussing profits is something the business rarely does.

“Are they also made aware during this process of talking to you or someone from your company that you are charging a service fee for the different body parts that are being sent out?” asked 9 On Your Side’s Claire Doan.

“That is actually not on the consent, Claire,” Gore said. “But what we do talk about is that we work with non-profits and for-profit organizations and universities throughout the country. And maybe that’s something that needs to be placed in there.”

Fees can vary by company. Since Arizona has no statutes regulating the industry, the law of supply and demand determines the prices.

“There is no way that they will be regulated by anyone. In other words, they charge whatever amount of money they deem necessary for their operation,” Gore said. “To the highest bidder or those that seek the largest quantity, yes, that could happen.”

The companies typically don’t disclose their fees, but 9 On Your Side obtained a top-secret price list from a few years back. On average, eyes or a lung cost $375. A shoulder goes for $430. A torso’s worth $1500. An entire leg, pelvis to toe, is worth $1800. And for $350, one can buy a certain body part we won’t mention.

Industry professionals told KGUN9 prices have since doubled. A 2008 tax return from an Arizona-based, non-profit donor company shows it grossed $5.7 million in a year. Imagine what for-profit companies can rake in.

Garland Shreves, who runs Research for Life, said the bodies are still human beings and should be treated with respect. He gave KGUN9 a tour of his Chandler donor facility in order to, in his words, provide transparency into the much misunderstood donor industry.

“The reason why I invited you to see this room is because it’s not a mysterious dark dungeon. It’s a very clinical, very professional facility where the procurements actually take place,” Shreves explained.

He said the recent “Bisbee Bones” scandal may have bruised his industry, but overall, donors and donor companies play a big role in advancing medicine.

“Donors help bridge a way for finding cures for those diseases and possibilities to cure spinal cord injuries, for example, and other types of things that make a huge difference to humanity,” Shreves said.

Profits accompany those advancements, but Gore said ethics always trump regulations.

“I think there needs to be more regulation, but I don’t think that’s the answer to somebody who has evil in their heart and is willing to do anything for a dollar,” Gore said.

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