Lovin' human remains

If you're anything like me (and would it kill you to try?) you have a hard enough time picking a movie, let alone where you're going when you die.

We're not talking about your immortal soul. For once. Souls get an awful lot of air time, travel plans and chicken soup for something that might not even exist. The soul is sweetness and light, a spiritual My Pretty Ballerina doll that it's fun to imagine flitting around once the curtain falls on your, let's face it, unremarkable life. The body, however, is just a lumpy nuisance. I don't care how gorgeous you were when you were breathing; once you're dead, your body is a white elephant good only for being gotten rid of.

And what do you want done with it? You could have it buried, which means buying an expensive box from some empathetic ghoul who will try to sell you an extra satin pillow, which sounds a lot like putting a veal chop in a Barbie Dream House.

The other option is cremation, which is scary, even if you are dead. A body is a connective vehicle through which the dead can pop out of their graves and cause the living to soil themselves. The idea of its existence is comforting. Cremation is an admission that you're never coming back, not even for Halloween. I don't even like to admit when it's 2 a.m. and time to leave the bar. Ashes are too final for me.

The most noble thing to do with your greasy remains is to donate them for transplanting or study. That way at least you'll be helping out someone after you're dead, which is probably the only way to get you to do it.

But some people are afraid that organ donation could plummet if it were revealed how much money bodies generate for some companies and what the bodies are used for.

Dearly departed

In a five-part series that should be narrated by the Cryptkeeper, the Orange County Register discovered that bodies donated to places like nonprofit tissue banks are sold to medical supply companies who harvest and process the parts at a profit. They can be put to good use. Medical companies provide corneas for implants, and human bone is used by dentists. Researchers even use cadavers as crash-test dummies and in product-safety tests, like dropping a head on the ground from "a few inches to a feet" to test, say, bike-helmet safety. But while some facilities are up-front with donors about these uses, some aren't. Still others are gleaning lots of money from donated bodies.

The series cites the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, which prohibits tissue profiteering but says a "reasonable charge" may be assessed for the processing of parts -- which some companies bill for instead of billing for the tissue. The law, however, never defined "reasonable."

The outcome is that while people think they are giving charitably, they may be contributing to a toe-tag sale expected to rake in "$1 billion in revenues by 2003." Think of it as if you gave someone your old Partridge Family lunchbox and they turned around and sold it on eBay.

One body, the series says, can let medical companies help up to 100 people. It can also glean up to $220,000, if the bones are included. That gives "better off dead" a new meaning to those of us who'll never be worth that kind of scratch alive.

Out on a limb

And it presents a few tricky propositions. The Register concludes, "Nowhere in the country are grieving families told that their gifts fuel a fast-growing industry." Shouldn't they be? Shouldn't they have a more exact idea of where their donation is going? Would they be as likely to donate if they knew?

Body parts don't just go to altruistic causes. "Cadaver skin puffs up the lips of fashion models at $1,050 a shot." That's a bit different from helping little Timmy walk again. Skin can also go toward penis enlargement. Would donors be pleased to help Wee Willie Winkie inch his way up in the world?

Actually, maybe they will. In fact, donations might go up if, with the right spin, you could make this twisted use of the dead sound sexy. Sure, it's one thing to have the satisfaction of knowing that your generous act helped someone continue to use their bladder in an orderly fashion. But what guy wouldn't like to think of being permanently and intimately attached to the lips of a supermodel? Any woman, or man, who has had a preoccupation with making penises bigger during life could certainly see the satisfaction in being able to make them bigger even in death.

So where are you going to go when you die? Considering the puffy, pouty lips of supermodels and the thought of charmingly enlarged packages everywhere -- and that you could help someone out with their bum liver in the bargain -- the answer could be, despite the profiteering aspect, to go somewhere where you'll do a lot of good. And go to heaven at the same time.


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