Luscious lips, full breasts and big penises may hold a deadly secret. For increasingly they are being made from corpses donated to save lives.

Luscious lips, full breasts and big penises may hold a deadly secret. For increasingly they are being made from corpses donated to save lives.

The use in cosmetic surgery of bodies given to medicine is part of a booming industry in human spare parts. It is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the United States, despite a law banning the sale of human tissue. Some of the firms involved are planning to bring their products to Britain.

A single body can be worth £70,000 to the industry, twice as much if its bones are also "harvested". But experts say that grieving relatives are not told of the profits to be made from their loved ones.

"People who donate have no idea that tissue is being processed into products that, per gram or per ounce, are in the price range of diamonds," said Professor Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania's Centre for Bioethics. "They are not told that it will be used for cosmetic purposes rather than life saving.

"As for those who receive the tissue, it is like eating a hot dog. You can enjoy it, but it's often better not to ask what is in it."

Some 20,000 dead Americans became the raw material for this ultimate recycling industry last year, four times as many as were used for the transplanting of vital organs. Glossy sales catalogues display some 650 different products made from the bodies, and a single corpse can provide material for 100 living patients.

Many of the uses do bring medical benefits, the industry stresses. Tendons mend sports injuries, while a gel made of human skin tissue can fill holes left by operating on tumours and treat incontinence in women. And every year dentists give some 200,000 Americans powdered human bone from corpses to treat damaged gums and jaws.

But products made from human skin are also used to bulk out the lips of models and actresses, and - at over £650 an injection - to thicken penises, augment breasts, and iron out wrinkles.

The British Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and the British Dental Association say products from corpses are only rarely used in Britain, and the major products used in the US are not yet licensed in this country.

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