Dead bodies have always been used in medicine. But demand for human tissue is outstripping supply, resulting in the gruesome new trade of body brokering, in which unscrupulous traders have used the bodies of those who haven't given their permission, with devastating consequences.
In this slideshow, however, we take a look at what companies legitimately trading in body parts — those who source from willing donors and sell to legitimate medical facilities — are making on specific body parts.
Want to find out how much your body is worth on today's legal market? Click ahead to find out.
By Constance Parten
Graphics: Paul Alvord for CNBC.com
Posted March 22, 2010
The spine is used primarily by surgeons for testing orthopedic implants.
Of Note: If a body broker decides to form a company in the United States to sell body parts for research or education, no one checks the company's books or makes sure the bodies are obtained legally.
The forearm and hand are used in surgical practice for learning difficult techniques like key-hole surgery. They are fairly easy to prepare. Shoulders, however, are fairly difficult to remove and prepare, so are valued more highly. They are commonly used for orthopedic research and surgical practice.
Hand and Forearm Price: $385
Shoulder Price: $500
The heart and other internal organs are used by surgeons for practice and to develop new techniques.
Of Note: Tissue banks are inspected by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the tissue supply to hospital patients is free of disease. The government does not, however, regulate bodies and body parts for research and education.
This transparent tissue at the front of the eye lets in light and helps the lens focus the light on the retina so we can see. Injury or disease can distort the shape of the corneas or make them cloudy, but a cornea transplant can restore a person's sight.
Of Note: Only New York State licenses nontransplant tissue banks, but no state regulates them. No agency keeps track of how many bodies go into the nontransplant system and no one monitors what happens to them.
Surgeons use the kidneys and other internal organs to practice skills and develop new techniques.
Of Note: By law, organ-procurement organizations must be non-profit charities, which means that their financial records are open to the public.
Heads are used most commonly by trauma doctors and plastic surgeons to practice new techniques.
Used predominantly by neurosurgeons for practicing new methods of tumor removal and treating brain injuries.
Orthopedic surgeons use knees and other joints to practice minimally invasive surgery techniques.
Price: $650 each
Of Note: Human bones can be ground into dust that is made into paste and used in periodontal surgery.
Tendons are commonly used in orthopedic surgery to replace tendons or bones damaged by trauma, tumors or other conditions.
Price: $1,000 each
Of Note: Every corpse that travels through the system can generate anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on how it is used.