Can You Sell Your Body When You Die? This Man Wants to Try

Jason Stump’s body is very valuable, he says. It shouldn’t go to waste after all he’s done to keep it alive.

Stump has had cancer three times, an experimental bone marrow transplant, and radiation therapy. Stump’s “terminal date” has come and gone and he knows that his actual mortality is creeping on the horizon. So he’s been trying to make a plan for his body once his soul has departed, one that will help out his wife and two-year-old daughter financially.

Stump wants to sell his body.

“It’s my body, I’ve put a lot of work into it and so has everybody else that’s been around me,” Stump told Newsweek. Therefore, he argues, he should have the right to sell it to the highest bidder in anticipation of his death.

Stump also points out, his body is an unusual specimen. None of his limbs are the same length, his pituitary gland doesn’t work and he only has half a left lung, he explained. He’s in endocrine failure and his thyroid doesn’t work either. Such a unique body has to hold unique medical information, making it valuable to to the world of science and medicine, he said.

Stump Jason Stump lives with his wife, daughter, and two cats. He knows he'll die soon and wants to sell his body so he can leave some money to his family. If you want to buy his body, Stump says you can contact him at mrjestump@yahoo.com. Courtesy of Jason Stump

Profits

Through his research on the internet, Stump knows that there is no federal law specifically banning the sale of human remains, except for transplant or if that human was a Native American. (The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act says that cultural items of Native Americans, including human remains, must be left in burial sites.)

Plenty of people sell human bones across the U.S., no paperwork or qualifications required. Human skulls were popular on eBay until the website stopped allowing them 2016, and you can still buy human remains on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and private websites. One company called Skulls Unlimited sells donor skeletons to qualified professionals, such as this one from a 69-year-old caucasian female for $5,200. Anyone, regardless of qualification, can buy older human skeletons that are from “retired” or international medical skeletons for $4,800 on Skulls Unlimited.

One estimate suggests that a single dead human body can generate $551,473 in revenue when parsed out.

There’s even a profitable industry selling the bodies of (other) people who recently died. Reuters is currently publishing a series of articles on “body brokers” who receive bodies donated for free, parse them out, and sell the parts with little to no regulatory oversight. In fact, Reuters reporters bought two human heads and one set of neck bones for a total of $900 from a broker in Tennessee, the very state where Stump receives treatment and might die.  

So if some people can sell other people’s bodies without so much as a permit, Stump asks, why can't he sell his own?

Law of the Land
Tanya Marsh teaches funeral and cemetery law at Wake Forest University School of Law. She wrote a textbook on human remains law and explained that the law in this area is woefully vague and unenforced. Still, she argues that such a sale would be illegal in Stump’s state of Kentucky.

If Stump were to sell his body in Tennessee, that state’s law says that “a person commits an offense who, without legal privilege, knowingly:...Physically mistreats a corpse in a manner offensive to the sensibilities of an ordinary person…”  Tenn. Code §39-17-312(a).

Wording as vague as “offensive to the sensibilities” is difficult to interpret. But Marsh says the federal government wouldn’t recognize a sale that Stump is hoping for.

“The common law rule in the U.S. is that there’s no property interest in human remains,” Marsh told Newsweek, adding, “You can't sell something that isn't property.” She explained that, in states without laws forbidding trade in human remains, "there isn’t really a way for the government to get involved" in transactions, whether to prosecute them or to enforce contracts of sale. So if you sell your body and then don't get paid, the government can't help you. 

Both Kentucky, where Stump lives, and Tennessee, where Stump is treated, have adopted a Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, detailing how a dead body can be used after being “donated to science.”  According to Kentucky’s rules, “sale or purchase of parts [is] prohibited.” Body brokers, Marsh explained, claim to operate as “non-transplant anatomical tissue banks” and argue that they aren’t “selling” body parts, but rather charging for their transportation and processing.

Still, Marsh notes that many people selling human remains are in fact acting outside the law, but prosecutors aren’t pursuing these sales. In particular, she’s worried that the body brokers mentioned in the Reuters series aren’t acting legally.

“What I think they’re doing in most states is blatantly illegal, but prosecutors aren’t paying any attention.”

As for Stump, if he manages to sell his body, it could prove difficult to prosecute someone who is, well, dead. “The fact that something is illegal doesn’t mean nobody gets away with it,” Marsh said. “Whether or not someone’s willing to break the law is up to them.”

 

If Stump donates his body to a qualified university research program, that would be legal. Marsh says that, today, university research programs are respectful of remains and bury or cremate them after use.

However, older skeletons sometimes become a set of “retired” medical specimens, and end up sold to collectors, ending up on Instagram. A community of oddities sellers uses social media to trade in human remains, using hashtags like #realhumanskullforsale to find buyers.

Stump doesn’t think it’s fair that he can’t profit from his own body parts, even though they’re not considered property, and that he should be considered in ownership of his own body parts. One woman successfully argued that her leg is hers, and she was able to keep her own skeletonized, severed leg after she had it removed due to cancer. If she wanted to sell it, it’s unlikely that anyone would come to stop her.

 

A little less than two years ago I seriously thought I wasn't going to be here to celebrate this day. The day I found out I had cancer, i was so sure it had spread. But it didn't. When I found out I would have to have my foot amputated, I was so sure my life would never be good again. But it is. I've had my fair share of life changing events. But I'm still here. I've been down and depressed since I had to rehome my dog, Moose. But today is a day that I never thought I would see. So today I will remind myself of that every time I think about all the hard things life has thrown at me the last two years. I'm still here. I'm 27. I'm alive. ❤❤❤ thank you for following. Here's a photo of my mom and me. She gave birth to that foot she's holding. #amputee #skeleton #foot #bones #onefootwander #cancer #stillhere #cancerdidntwin

A post shared by cancer foot_✂ (@onefootwander) on

Eternity

To some, cutting up a human body and selling the parts may seem vile and unethical. But Stump counters that throwing it away, burning it or burying it is more repulsive. Furthermore, if someone keeps, studies and appreciates Stump’s body parts once his soul has departed, he feels as though he’ll live on in some way.

“I do have cancer, which is an immortal cell. They can take them out and they’ll infinitely reproduce. I think I should have that right to be somewhat immortal," Stump said. "To have that legacy to go on.”