Bodies donated to a university medical school were sold to the army who then blew them up in tests involving land mines, escalating the controversy over the unregulated use of human body parts.
Tulane University in New Orleans said it had suspended a contract with the New York-based company it paid to distribute surplus body parts. The university receives up to 150 donated bodies a year but only uses up to 45 for its own classes: it thought the remainder were being passed on to other medical schools.
But National Anatomical Service (Nas), the distribution company, sold seven of the bodies to the army for up to $30,000 (£16,700). Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for the Army Medical Research and Material Command in Fort Detrick, Maryland, said the bodies were blown up in tests on protective footwear against land mines. He said: "There is a legitimate need for medical research, and cadavers are one of the models that help medical researchers find out valuable information."
The trade in body parts has come under scrutiny since two men, including the head of the Willed Body Programme at the University of California at Los Angeles, were arrested at the weekend for allegedly trafficking in stolen body parts. It is illegal to make a profit from selling body parts; a regulation that distributors get around by charging only for labour costs and transportation.
The Pentagon has long bought cadavers to use in research involving explosive devices and has been one of the biggest buyers in the largely unregulated trade. But few people who agree to donate their bodies or those of their deceased relatives realise they will end up being used in such tests.
Michael Meyer, the professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University in California, who has written about the ethics of donated bodies, said: "Imagine if your mother had said all her life that she wanted her body to be used for science, and then her body was used to test land mines. There are some moral problems with deception here."
Tulane University said it found out about the Army's use of the bodies in January 2003 but it did not suspend its contract with Nas until this month.
John Scalia, the chief executive of Nas, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper that, after the army finished using the bodies, the remains were gathered and then cremated. The ashes were returned to the university.Reuse content