Body donations are on the rise in Arizona. But what’s really happening in the booming cadaver industry?


Standing in front of a group of prospective body donors, Garland Shreves grabs the head of a plastic human skeleton model and pops it off the body.

“We may take this right off the top of your shoulders,” he explains to the audience of 16 who have come to Shreves’ Phoenix company – Research for Life – for a Saturday morning seminar and tour about body donation.

Shreves explains to the audience that his company dissects, dismembers and ships body parts all over the world. The body parts aren’t for transplant. Body donation businesses aren’t about organ transplants.

Rather, body donation businesses use the body parts of corpses to sell to medical device companies and other entities, although the companies don’t like the word “sell.” The unused body parts are cremated and returned to the family at no cost.

That cost-saving can be an incentive for families, too.

Approximately 4,000 people – about 7% of the people who die in Arizona each year – are whole body donors, which is roughly five times the national average based on 39 reporting states, the Illinois-based Cremation Association of North America says.

The American Association of Tissue Banks has accredited seven non-transplant human tissue banks in the United States, and four of them, including Research for Life, are headquartered in Arizona.

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