Trade in bodies: Body donation to science promoted as cheap funeral alternative

Gurneys in a hospital corridor
Gurneys in a hospital corridorSimpleFotoDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

RISE Labs - the Netherlands' first so-called body broker - is promoting the donation of one's body to science after death as a "cheap alternative to a funeral" which "saves your relatives costs". This body broker, which trades in the body parts of people who made their body available to science after death, is operating in a legally gray area in the Netherlands, Nieuwsuur reports based on its own research. 

Nieuwsuur's research found that dozens of people in the Netherlands have registered with RISE Labs since the start of last year, and four bodies have actually been donated. The bodies were stored in a mortuary at Schiphol, after which they were dissected elsewhere and the body parts were stored or sold.

Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health told the news program that RISE Labs cooperates with universities, producers of medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies in the Netherlands and abroad. Inquiries at Dutch universities showed that they are not working with RISE Labs, which means the boy parts were likely sold to companies or universities abroad, according to the program.

The Netherlands does not yet have clear legal frameworks on selling donated bodies, Britta van Beers, a professor of law, ethics and biotechnology, said to Nieuwsuur. "In general, it is not allowed to make money from the human body. That seems to me to apply to corpses. Only in the Netherlands that has not been specifically recorded."

The Netherlands does have a clear ban on offering money for donating a body. So the way RISE Labs advertises may be a problem, Van Beers said. "The body donation is presented as a budget option. So: if you donate your body, it is not only good for science but also for your wallet. With that, the company really pushes the boundaries of the law, that can actually not be defended in the Netherlands."

Minister De Jonge told Nieuwsuur that he finds it acceptable that profits are made "because this  leads to progress in our healthcare". He is, however, working on a new law to make clear exactly what is and is not allowed. In response to RISE Lab's advertising choice, he said that he is looking into the possibilities of banning "expressions aimed at promoting body donation and giving the impression that by donating the deceased can achieve a cost saving or other financial benefit."