Moralists have always argued that one cannot put a price on the value of a human being. This argument has been used to condemn organ harvesting and the black trade in body parts. For years, they have contended that a human being is more than the sum of their body parts - the fact that they have a soul means that they are not pieces of meat. While acknowledging the soundness of the argument, others have questioned whether it still holds water where a person is already deceased. They are of the view that once a person dies, they no longer have a soul and as such, there is nothing wrong with selling their body parts.
They are not the first and certainly will not be the last to contend so. Dead bodies have always been considered valuable especially in the medical field. Their value has led to a new type of business that specialises only in dead bodies. Given that a dead body can fetch as much as between USD $10,000 - USD $100,000, the business is said to be so lucrative that even drug dealers, traffickers, and even professionals from other fields want a piece of the action. With the increased demand for human tissue and the limited supply, those involved in the trade have resulted to unorthodox practices such as tomb-raiding and body broking (using dead bodies without the requisite consents) in an effort to meet the demand.
Tomb-raiding has become increasingly widespread across Egypt with the most recent report being the theft of the body of Patriarch Gerges Al- Basit, the son of a priest (Ibrahim Al-Basit) from Egyptian Orthodox Church. The grave robbers reportedly stole the body of the priest's son from his family's burial place in the Minya governorate last Saturday. The Church has issued a statement condemning the brazen act as one that mocks the sanctity of a deceased person.
Greed and desire to make quick money are said to be the key factors fueling the growing business. Last October, a gang was arrested after stealing bodies from their graves and selling them to medical students for practical learning. Some of the tomb raiders remove tissues and grease from the bones by boiling them to get rid of the odor before selling them to students.
An investigation conducted last year into one of the notorious gangs revealed how various body parts are priced. Although the prices are said to vary depending on the state of the corpse, destination, and the client, the investigators found out that a leg and an arm were priced at 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($180), the spine cost $900, the skull cost 5,000 pounds ($300), hearts go for $500, corneas fetch as much as $6000 per pair and the whole body was worth 20,000 pounds ($1200).
With tomb-raiding being a criminal offence that attracts a five-year prison stint and a fine of 100 - 500 Egyptian pounds, you would expect that the grave robbers would think twice before stealing bodies but the converse is true. If anything, they have become more bold and innovative at their craft.
According to Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a legal expert, and lawyer:
There are many cases where cemetery guards and assistants help people access graves for superstitious reasons in exchange for large sums of money. The majority of these cases are happening with the help of the guards of the tombs. They exhume graves at night to extract the bodies and separate the organs to sell bones and skulls. They often sell them to drug dealers by grinding and mixing some materials for sale at high prices."
Header Image Credit: BBC, AP, Constance Parten