healthHealth and Medicine

Court Trial Shows The Dark Reality Of The Human Body Trade In The US


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 24 2018, 14:14 UTC

“I hope you burn in hell,” a victim's daughter told Rathburn. “And when you get there, make sure to tell the devil I sent you.” Jules1601/Shutterstock

A businessman has just been sentenced to jail time for selling diseased human body parts to customers, some of which were infected with HIV or hepatitis.

Arthur Rathburn earned an estimated $13 million between 1997 and 2013 through his dodgy body dealings, but he left a Detroit court on Tuesday with nine years imprisonment and bankruptcy, Reuters reports.


During this time period, he sold infected body parts on at least 120 occasions to unwitting medical educators. Some of those cadavers belonged to donors who had HIV or Hepatitis B and C, communicable viruses that are spread through blood and body fluids.

Acquiring and selling body parts is actually perfectly legal in the US and remains largely unregulated in most states. Rathburn was not prosecuted for his treatment of the body parts, instead, he was convicted of defrauding customers and violating shipping laws.

Body brokers can acquire the body of a person who opted to donate their whole body to science. These donations can be made to a university or a state agency, or a non-transplant tissue bank where brokers are used to buy and sell cadavers. Body brokers are often chosen because they pay for the transportation and handling costs, making it cheaper for families of the deceased.


In court, Rathburn branded himself as a maverick who was “ahead of his time” and denied knowing the bodies were infected with contagious diseases.

“I know how some of you thought this was barbaric. I can understand your point of view, but this was necessary,” he told the court.

Assistant US Attorney John Neal disagreed, telling the judge: “This was an exceptionally serious offense. This was an intentional and repeated offense. This was not a one-time error."


Rathburn was one of the subjects of Reuters' huge investigation into body brokers and the cadaver trade. The 64-year-old scientist-turned-businessman had previously come under fire for poor handling and documentation. FBI agents said they found freezers full of body parts at his Detroit warehouse, many of which had frozen and become stuck together. On multiple occasions, he was caught transporting body parts, which in one instance included a severed penis, with documentation that they were willingly donated.

One of the severed heads found in Rathburn's "warehouse of horrors" belonged to Randolph Wright, whose daughter was in court to watch the sentencing.

“I hope you burn in hell,” she told Rathburn. “And when you get there, make sure to tell the devil I sent you.”


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