Tag Archives: Reuters

The Aftermarket for (Human) Spare Parts

Male and female mannequins In storage
Mannequins in Storage via Wikimedia

For many, it seems like an easy choice: You check the donor box on your driver’s license and feel a vague sense of philanthropy. “If anything happens to me, at least what’s left will be used in a meaningful way.”

Two Reuters reporters traced what happens with those “donated to science” bodies. It’s gruesome and predatory and largely unregulated.  Stop here if you’re squeamish.

Outside Southern Nevada’s suburban warehouse, the circumstances were far from comforting. In the fall of 2015, neighboring tenants began complaining about a mysterious stench and bloody boxes in a Dumpster. That December, local health records show, someone contacted authorities to report odd activity in the courtyard.

Health inspectors found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose. He was thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.

This is the “body broker” market. It’s different from the federally regulated tissue and organ donor market — the market that provides, say,  a liver to a waiting patient.

The body broker market is a for profit industry selling body parts for medical training.  Brokers often source those bodies — body parts, really — from the poor, offering partial cremation in exchange for the opportunity to sell off what’s left.

The industry’s business model hinges on access to a large supply of free bodies, which often come from the poor. In return for a body, brokers typically cremate a portion of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare industry veterans say, brokers appeal to low-income families at their most vulnerable. Many have drained their savings paying for a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t afford a traditional funeral.

“People who have financial means get the chance to have the moral, ethical and spiritual debates about which method to choose,” said Dawn Vander Kolk, an Illinois hospice social worker. “But if they don’t have money, they may end up with the option of last resort: body donation.”

Few rules mean few consequences when bodies are mistreated. In the Southern Nevada case, officials found they could do little more than issue a minor pollution citation to one of the workers involved. Southern Nevada operator Joe Collazo, who wasn’t cited, said he regretted the incident. He said the industry would benefit from oversight that offers peace of mind to donors, brokers and researchers.

“To be honest with you, I think there should be regulation,” said Collazo. “There’s too much gray area.”

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The Subtleties of Electrocution

Danny Lawson/PA Wire URN:7474636 (Press Association via AP Images)

Reuters reporters took an exhaustive look at Taser use by U.S. police officers, documenting 1000-plus incidents in which people — often people with mental or physical illnesses, or substance abuse issues — died following a tasing. In half the cases, the person was shocked after they or a loved one actually called for help. Of course, Axon Enterprise (the rebranded Taser International) stands behind the safety of its product, throwing the nation’s medical examiners under the bus in the process.

Taser says these tallies give an exaggerated picture of the weapons’ hazards because they suggest Tasers caused all those deaths, when most involved other types of police force as well. The devices have saved tens of thousands of lives, the company says. All weapons carry risks, said Steve Tuttle, the company’s vice president for communications, but Tasers are “the safest force option available to law enforcement.”

Tuttle also said the autopsy results collected by Reuters are unreliable because they were not “peer reviewed” – a standard for studies published in medical journals, although not applicable in courts of law. The medical examiners and pathologists around the country who decided the official cause of death in those cases may not understand the weapons’ physiological effects, he said, and may be “over-listing” potential factors in their rulings to avoid being criticized for possible omissions.

“Ultimately, Taser is not responsible for educating every medical examiner on the subtleties of electrocution,” Tuttle said.

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The Problem with the Red Cross

Why the Red Cross hasn’t been as effective as small community groups when it has come to disaster relief post-Sandy:

The real problem with the Red Cross was not that it was stretched thin, but rather that it was simply too big, and its people too inexperienced in disaster recovery, to be able to respond nimbly to Sandy. Eventually, after a week or two, it will lumber in to affected areas and take over from the ad-hoc groups who provided desperately-needed aid in the early days. It’s reasonably good at that. But that’s clearly not good enough, and it’s certainly nowhere near flawless.

Of course, the Red Cross is burdened with massive expectations. If you’re stuck in a remote part of Staten Island without power or communication for days on end, no one’s going to blame Doctors Without Borders or Occupy Wall Street if you get no help — but they are going to blame the Red Cross.

With $117 million in donations comes an expectation that the Red Cross can and should be everywhere it’s needed, when it’s needed, rather than in a handful of places, a week later, offering food but no shelter or blankets or power or lights. But probably those expectations are unrealistic. The US is fortunate in that it’s not a permanent disaster zone: it’s not a country where Red Cross volunteers are ever going to be experienced in responding to such things. And mobilizing thousands of volunteers and tens of millions of dollars to provide food and shelter in areas without electricity or pharmacies or heat — that’s a logistical nightmare.

“The Problem with the Red Cross.” — Felix Salmon, Reuters

A review of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, and a different perspective on the dark side of Steve:

Sometimes the repetition serves a purpose: The drug LSD, referred to 33 times, is clearly important to Jobs. (The FBI thought the same, according to documents released this month.) “How many of you have taken LSD?” Jobs taunts an audience of Stanford business school students. “Are you a virgin? How many times have you taken LSD?’ he demands of an Apple interviewee. Bill Gates would ‘be a broader guy if he had dropped acid.” Tripping was “one of the two or three most important things he’d done in his life.” People who had never dropped acid ‘would never fully understand him.’ The generations that followed his own were more ‘materialistic’ and less ‘idealistic’ for not having tripped; also, they all looked like ‘virgins.’ In the binary world within Steve’s reality, having consumed LSD was the key determinant of whether a colleague or employee was deemed “enlightened” or “an asshole.”

To iSummarize: Steve Jobs had a litmus test for evaluating workers: It was a lot like a literal litmus test.

“The Book of Jobs.” — Moe Tkacik, Reuters

See more #longreads about Steve Jobs