Thwarted body part markets in everything

The Chicago-based nonprofit faces “the same challenge any business would have, whether I’m selling Hostess Twinkies or cadavers,” says Stephen Burnett, a professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

To stay ahead, the association wants to supply body parts to the FBI and launch new products, including its own plastinated bodies, says Mr. Dudek, 62, executive vice president since 2005. He draws on his entrepreneurial experience as a co-owner of an MRI center in the south suburbs, which he sold to join the association.

Originally known as the Demonstrator’s Society, the association has not changed its business plan since its founding in 1918. Bodies are donated, embalmed and transferred to institutions such as med schools, where dissection remains a rite of passage.

Reasons for donations vary. Some gifts are part of estate planning, while others are made by relatives who cannot afford funerals.

By law, bodies cannot be sold, although groups like the association can be paid for processing. Member med schools pay about $1,300 per cadaver; nonmembers pay $2,300.

Nationwide, there’s a shortage of cadavers, in part because of the rise in organ donation. Cadavers without their organs are not suitable for medical education, Mr. Dudek notes. The association needs about 425 bodies a year for its members but missed that mark in 2009 and has barely met it in three of the last six years.

And yet globalization and government may come to the rescue:

The Middle East, where the culture discourages body donations, could be a new market. Schools in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have recently expressed interest, he says. Law enforcement agencies also are prospects. Anatomical Gift is close to signing a contract to supply the FBI’s K-9 unit, which uses body parts to train dogs to find crime victims, he says. Limbs cost $570, plus $335 for HIV and hepatitis testing, since they are not embalmed, Mr. Dudek says. An FBI spokeswoman declines to comment.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank G. Patrick Lynch.


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