How to Avoid the Body Snatchers

broken tombstoneSome fiction writers may jump to tell you that body snatching is so “five decades ago,” with the current popularity of full-body donations to science. But, grave-robbers still exist, mainly to supply bodies and body parts to the medical field. The 2008 arrest of medical supplies boss Michael Mastromarino offers solid evidence that grave robbers remain active.

As medical schools were created in the early nineteenth century, the need for cadavers to provides students with hands-on lessons in anatomy grew along with the medical schools. Today, medical schools require anywhere from three-hundred to eight-hundred bodies per year. In all, the human-tissue industry is thought to be worth $500 million per year and growing.

While murder and body-snatching might still remain part of the skills in acquiring cadavers, it is far more likely these days that medical schools will rely on full body donations, unscrupulous funeral homes, body snatchers and felons such as Michael Mastromarino.

How can you or your loved ones avoid the grip of a body snatcher? The following suggestions might help you decide what to do if you don’t want to become a victim like Ruth Sprague, a nine-year-old girl who died in 1846. Her headstone in Maple Grove Cemetery, Hoosick Falls, New York, is inscribed with the message that she was “stolen from the grave by Roderick R. Crow and dissected at Dr. P.M. Armstrongs’ office…from which place her mutilated remains were obtained & deposited here…”

Her body dissected by fiendish Men,
Her bones anatomised,

Her soul we trust has risen to God
where few Physicians rise.

  • First, you might question why coffin-makers strive to make their coffins so secure. Manufacturers have created everything from heavy metal caskets with locks on the lids to “torpedo coffins” that contained explosive devises that might thwart a body snatcher. Today, some individuals prefer to purchase expensive lock-tight caskets along with a cement vault. Even then, your body may not be safe, but if you’re the one in that casket, will you really care? Spend the money, instead, on your kids or grandkids.
  • You need to trust your undertaker. Although these services are bound to legal deathcare activities, some unsuspecting families in the past have buried coffins filled with rocks. Embalming, and proof of the embalming process can deter efforts of profiteering on bodies through funeral homes, as the medical researcher prefers unaltered tissue.
  • The desire to avoid embalming and to encourage “natural” funerals can encourage body snatchers as well. These “fresh” and unaltered bodies are desirable to the medical researcher, especially if they are buried within 24 hours after death. Tissue may be harvested only shortly after death, so time is of the essence in the body parts trade.
  • Populated cemeteries in urban areas are less likely to become body-snatcher targets, simply because illegal activities might be noticed quickly. Isolated burial grounds are ripe for grave robbers.
  • Cremation can thwart the body snatchers. Few medical institutions find a need to research cremated remains.
  • If you don’t mind donating your body to science, you can help thwart body snatchers and fulfill a desire to help others. Make sure the institution you choose for this service is accredited and a member of the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Association with the AATB provides you with some peace of mind that your body or your loved one’s remains will fulfill some purpose, even after death. And, no one will profit from your donation financially (profiteering from bodies is illegal!).

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