Chris Curtin: Selling body parts doesn’t pay off

By CHRIS CURTIN, guest columnist

I first became aware of it a few years ago, when a couple guys at the UCLA Medical Center were apprehended selling an arm and some bones.

You don’t expect this kind of thing to happen at a respected university medical center. I don’t know if they were having their Spring Clearance Body Part and Organ Sidewalk Sale or what.

Maybe a silent auction would be more tasteful and draw less attention.

But these things seem to keep happening. It all started with that undertaker guy in Georgia several years ago. He found that he could make a higher profit and do a lot less work by not burying any of the stiffs. He just stacked ‘em up.

Seven funeral homes in Boston, no doubt inspired by the Georgia undertaker and the entrepreneurs at UCLA, were harvesting body parts. They were caught by the authorities stealing bones and body tissue from the dead people in their charge.

A report on television showed an X-ray of the body of Alistair Cook, a television personality. The funeral homes had replaced his bones with PVC pipe — plastic pipe you can buy at your local hardware store. The report didn’t explain what the funeral homes did with their ill-gotten gains.

And now you can get home delivery. Just the other week a Michigan couple received two packages they thought contained pieces to a table they were expecting. The unsuspecting husband began to unwrap one of the packages and said, “This is strange, but it looks like liver.” He started to unwrap the second package, but stopped when he saw an ear. Somebody lost their head.

The local sheriff discovered that the liver and head were from China and were “headed” to a lab in northern Michigan.

I wonder what they’re doing up there at that lab. How many heads a week do they order? What’s the going rate for a good head? Who did the head belong to before the lab purchased it?

If you are on vacation up there and your car breaks down late at night, I’m sure the nice folks at the lab will be happy to put you up for the night. Just sleep with one eye open.

Recently, while visiting a friend in another state, I became ill and had to spend several days in a strange hospital. At some point, someone asked me if I wanted to donate my organs. I mumbled “OK” and signed some papers.

It was late at night, alone in the quiet, dark room, that I began remembering these stories. Troubling questions crept into my mind:

1. What am I worth to the hospital dead?

2. What, exactly, did the small print on the papers I signed say?

“The aforementioned hereby agrees and confirms that unnamed hospital staff members will be allowed to come to my room in the dark of night armed with assorted meat cleavers and chainsaws and remove, at their pleasure, any and all of the aforementioned’s vital organs and/or body parts, as they see fit, to be shipped to our cutting-edge experimental laboratory in northern Michigan. And whereupon after you have been dispatched to the hereafter, hospital representatives will solemnly present to your loved ones the cremated remains of a carefully selected possum we found in our parking lot, displayed in an attractive Styrofoam urn for the low, low price of $12,939.69.”

May you rest in pieces.

Chris Curtin is a longtime Brown County resident. He can be reached through the newspaper at