India’s secret exporting of human skeletons

Ever wondered where medical schools acquire the skeletons they use for study? I hadn’t really either, until I came across this somewhat disturbing article in Wired, “Inside India’s Underground Trade in Human Remains.” I suppose I would have guessed that the skeletons came from willing American donors, but that is often not the case. Apparently, the world’s largest supplier of skeletons used for medical study is India– insert “outsourcing” joke here– and the manner in which the skeletons are acquired is oftentimes morally questionable.

The article explains the basic problem here: “Skeletons aren’t easy to get. In the US, for instance, most corpses receive a prompt burial, and bodies donated to science usually end up on the dissection table, their bones sawed to pieces and destined for cremation. So most skeletons used for medical study come from overseas. Often they arrive without the informed consent of their former owners and in violation of the laws of their country of origin.”

Though it banned the export of human remains 22 years ago, India continues to maintain a robust, if under the table, international trade in human skeletons. And just how are these skeletons obtained? The answer is straightforward, but unsavory: “Rob graves, separate soft flesh from unyielding calcium, and deliver the bones to distributors – who assemble them and ship them to dealers around the globe.”

Read the fascinating article for the whole story, and also for a graphic explaining how much your mint-condition femur or pelvis will fetch on the open market. (Note: Selling your bones is not an effective long-term solution for your money woes.)