It’s legal to sell body parts. . . .Congress introduces “Body Broker” bill to give some respect to the process



The following quote came out of a National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) e-mail on June 26, 2023, that announced the introduction of the “Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Actbill into Congress, “In almost every state, it is legal for anyone, even if they do not have training, to sell the human remains of adults”.


And, this recent article from The Conversation states this, “It is not illegal to sell human remains under federal law. That’s why the defendants in the Harvard Medical School case were charged with interstate transport of stolen goods, rather than ‘trafficking human remains’.  There is actually very little federal law regarding the dead. The most significant is the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, which requires funeral homes to provide certain disclosures to consumers.

Instead, the vast majority of law respecting the dead is state law, which varies significantly.

By my count, the sale of human remains is broadly and expressly illegal in only eight states: Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.”  


It’s that seemingly lack of rules and the recent charges in the Harvard Medical School case that has led NFDA to back and recently led Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) to introduce this important legislation into both houses of Congress.


According to the NFDA email communication, “The Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act would provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) with oversight of entities that deal with human bodies and non-transplantable body parts donated for education, research, and the advancement of medical, dental and mortuary science.”


To learn more on this important issue for Death Care and the consumers we serve I would suggest reading the article from The Conversation linked above or this piece from the NFDA on the issue.


Funeral Director Daily take:  During my career I can remember very vividly a family member of a hospice patient coming into me and giving me a card of a “Body Donation” company.  He told me that the family had arranged for his loved one to be sent to this company upon death and that would eliminate any death care expenses on their part.  I was to call the company and get directions about the transportation of the deceased and would be paid by the company.


When I did call the company they explained to me that they wanted the body sent in a metal case, unembalmed, and packed with dry ice.  Having never done that before I was not very excited about the idea.  Generally, sending a deceased by common carrier over state lines required embalming and I was a little leery about not doing so.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

It led me to call our State Department of Health Mortuary Division and in doing so I learned a little about the “Body Broker business”.  I was told that it was completely legal but many times family members did not understand that these were “for-profit” businesses and not a “non-profit” medical research company.


I called the family member and we discussed the options.  I told them what I had learned and also related that if their loved one was still lucid and of sound mind we could probably get their body registered to be donated to the medical schools at either the University of Minnesota or the University of North Dakota where we had excellent relationships.  I also told him that either of those schools would cover expenses and, in addition, would return cremated remains of their loved one following the medical use. . . . . The “Body Brokers” had not offered the return of cremated remains to the family.


That’s exactly what happened as the remains were accepted at the University of North Dakota and the body donation went off without a hitch.  In addition, the family now has a memorial space for the cremated remains at a local cemetery.  I know the family and, even today, they feel a little foolish for believing the hype of the “for-profit” body-brokers without talking to their local funeral director.


It’s a lesson learned in the value of talking to the local professional before a consumer makes a decision simply by what they see promoted on the internet.  And, that doesn’t just go for funeral homes, but one should think about that when purchasing contact lenses or glasses, or vitamins, or a lot of other things without getting a professional opinion.


What’s the old saying? . . . . Sometimes, you might get what you pay for.  That “free” service might not be exactly what you thought it would be.


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