Main content

The Resurrection Men

The business of acquiring and selling dead bodies for medical research and science in America.

For centuries, students of medicine have dissected the dead. But the idea of wilfully donating one’s body to medicine is somewhat new. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, American anatomists used executed criminals for dissection. When they needed more specimens, anatomists robbed graves, or rather, paid dusky characters to rob graves for them. Those who supplied doctors with bodies were sometimes called resurrectionists or resurrection men.
Nowadays, people in America donate their bodies to science. This has sufficed the medical demand for cadavers until recently. But university programmes are burgeoning, and they are not the only places that want bodies and body parts. Private medical research companies, medical device companies, and surgical training centres all need human tissue. This demand has created a strange new industry in America.

Garland Shreves is the CEO of Research For Life, a whole body donation company in Phoenix, Arizona. In short, he is in the business of acquiring and selling dead bodies. Peter Lang-­Stanton, Galen Koch and Nick Farago take an in-­depth look into Garland Shreves’ business - from donation to dismemberment to delivery.

(Photo: A body lies in the morgue at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, Tucson, Arizona. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Sat 13 Jun 2015 04:05GMT


Featured in...

Congo: A River Journey in binaural audio

Put your headphones on for an immersive journey along the mighty Congo River in the DRC

In Detail: Moving Pictures

Take time to discover the detail in old masterpieces using your phone, tablet or computer


Stargazing - from eclipses to the spacecraft changing our view of the Universe

The Documentary Podcast

Every episode of The Documentary, on your mp3 player, to play wherever you are

The Compass

The essential take on big ideas, issues and trends from the 21st century