• Klaus Hoeyer


On January 28, 2006, The Washington Post reported that “hundreds of very live Americans are walking around with pieces of the wrong dead people inside of them.” The macabre news came while media and police unraveled how a tissue recovery company called Biomedical Tissue Services illegally had harvested bone, tendons, and skin from funeral homes and sold the tissue as implant grafts to hospitals and dental clinics. Informed consent sheets were forged, and papers documenting age, cause of death, and disease history were made up to make the grafts appear safe. The most famous body enrolled in this unwarranted recycling of parts was that of Alistair Cooke, a British broadcaster especially known for his Letter from America program running for 58 years on BBC. He died at the age of 95 in 2004 from a lung cancer that had spread to his bones, which were nevertheless harvested by Biomedical Tissue Services. The horror of what eventually turned out to be more than 20,000 recipients having received implants with fake recovery papers—pieces of the wrong dead people—led many Anglophone newspapers to report on the new “tissue-processing industry.” In one such report, The New York Times noted that the “tissue-processing industry, once limited to whole organs, has evolved quickly as techniques have developed to make use of muscle, bone, tendon and skin in therapies and research.” In this way the bones of Alistair Cooke directed attention to something new. However, there is something slightly peculiar about the notion of bone and skin transplants as a recent addition to transplant medicine: bone has been transplanted for more than a 100 years. Why are bone transplants portrayed as new and why does an old and established medical procedure suddenly become ethically controversial? There is also something intriguing about the notion of “pieces of the wrong dead people.” What is the relationship between a piece of bone and a person—and what makes some relationships right and others wrong? When is something inside one body to be considered part of somebody else? Furthermore, the very term “tissue-processing industry” has an effect which makes it different from other “industries.” What does the industrial and commercial setup around products that come from bodies imply for the framing of this story and its effect on readers? The New York Times might assume that the reason they had not heard about bone transplants before is because it is “new,” but we clearly need a more accurate understanding of what is at stake. I suggest that the newness relates to a current reconfiguration of relations between three interrelated domains: the “body,” the “person,” and the “market.” This book is about analyzing this reconfiguration—conceptually, historically, and ethnographically—as a process of change emerging through exchange.


Body Part Moral Agency Intellectual Property Right Human Body Part Strategic Situation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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