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December 22, 2005

Meanwhile, while you were following serious news
Posted by Patrick at 02:08 PM * 43 comments

The bones of Alistair Cooke were illegally removed after his death and sold to two companies that provide tissue for transplant operations.

Comments on Meanwhile, while you were following serious news:
#1 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:28 PM:

That is just bizarre.

I wonder if the transplant recipients will feel an incredible urge to run out and buy DVDs of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Seriously, using tissue from a cancer patient is a bad idea and I hope that the tissue companies can track down everyone who is now carrying about a bit of Mr. Cooke.

#2 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:29 PM:

CRUNCHER & SONS

Tissue Services for the Discerning
Affiliated with the Manette Clinic

"Discretion and Efficiency Since 1775"

#3 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Had to be done. Was totally legal. We haven't had a successful terrorist attack on US soil since we started paying attention and if you don't let us rob graves, I can't guarantee that that will be the case going forward.

#4 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:37 PM:

Burke, Hare, and . . .Mastromarino?

(Odd. I wasn't sure what Burke's first name was, but 'William' was a total surprise to me.)

#5 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:44 PM:

Plan 10...

#6 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:09 PM:

I don't know, about twenty five years ago, when I was first turned down for a job at the BBC world service, they told me "We don't all want to be Alistair Cooke", and now it seems to be true.

#7 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:37 PM:

What I don't get about this story is that they're reporting it as if it were somehow about Alistair Cooke, and we all knew all about the grave robbers already. Has this guy been prosecuted? What's happening?

#8 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:11 PM:

People recovering from leukemia begin reciting weekly anecdotes about Winston Churchill, and deliver backhanded scolding to anyone disagreeing with the War. Your Public Radio station, for unknown reasons, will decide to broadcast them every Friday morning.

#9 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:15 PM:

More likely people who've had replacement surgeries suddenly come down with bone cancer. The main crime isn't against Alastair Cooke.

#10 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:36 PM:

This was on NPR today too. I didn't manage to find time to track down the link between banging my head against the keyboard, though.

You know, I am having a "Larry Niven Was Right" moment. I don't get that many of those.

#11 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:46 PM:

Elizabeth, this isn't the worst of it: they're now selling executed prisoners organs for transplant, with tissue typing carried out before the execution.

As for the corpse-robbers who took Mr Cooke's bones, my initial response was "have they no shame?" -- then I read the article and realized the answer was self-evident.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:57 PM:

How soon before this makes its way onto "CSI: NY" or "Law and Order"?

(Although, come to think of it, a past episode of Law and Order *did* feature body snatchers, but I forget what they were doing with the remains.)

#13 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:27 PM:

Andrew: in re broadcasting and fame, while watching someone make a large affair out of a small television achievement recently, the phrase "per Aspel ad astra" came to mind. (I'm not sure if it would have come into the mind of anyone else on the planet, but there you are.)

#14 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 07:05 PM:

Why? They can't intend to use the tissue; too degraded. Seriously -- does anyone know? What am I missing here?

#15 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 08:05 PM:

I'm with Lizzie. Degraded tissue, tissue typing? (Although maybe within the Chinese ethnic group--however you define that--there is less variation.) Racing to get the organ(s) where they are needed?

Why don't we hear about mass quantities of immunosuppressant drugs being produced?

I'm guessing that people in China who would receive transplants are well up in the Party hierarchy--they want the best stuff. No livers that have been in a refrigerator for three days, thank you.

This doesn't smell right.

#16 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 08:51 PM:

"But if it were that obvious, the Red Cross would have been finding its blood donors on Death Row, five quarts to a donor, since 1940 A.D. That has not been happening. Maybe it only took someone to point out the advantages. In which case blame it all on Larry Niven." -- afterword to The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton. (And by the way, that is an excellent/awful example of 1970's book technology -- yellowing pages already: I have C19 books made with rag paper that have aged better.)

#17 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 10:32 PM:

Debbie, et al.-- This is part of an ongoing police and (I think) D.A.'s office investigation. It's been in the New York area papers for a while. They still don't know how many corpses parts were stolen from. Worse, they don't know how many people received the questionable transplants: Cooke isn't the only case of the thieves having sold diseases and potentially contagious parts for transplant.

That's an unknown number of people who got skin grafts, tooth implants, et cetera, who instead of having their lives saved or improved may die of it.

If the D.A.s and/or U.S. attorneys in question are on the ball and track things thoroughly, the body-snatchers may spend the rest of their lives in prison: we're looking at an unknown but potentially large number of cases of (I am not a lawyer) manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or possibly murder by depraved indifference.

The Cooke angle is what suddenly made this story news outside the New York area. But even having read previous news stories about this case, when I first saw the headline about "Cooke's bones stolen" I assumed it was some weird souvenir or relic collector, not part of this crime ring.

#18 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 01:36 AM:

I have C19 books made with rag paper that have aged better.

They would. Rag paper -- that produced from used rags, as collected by rag men -- is an excellent way to make the stuff, and will last a very long time. Sulfite, which means there's no rag content at all, is what falls apart. There are several components to paper survival, including acid content and exposure to light, but "rag" is not an insult to the product.

Mass-audience paperbacks were (and mostly still are) considered an item for the short term, to be read, maybe passed along a couple of times, and then discarded. Like, you know, American cars of the postwar era.

#19 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 02:01 AM:

Meanwhile, Russell Baker has been dismissed from his job as Mr. Cooke's successor at Masterpiece Theater. The Powers That Be decided to dispense with the introductory segment, so as to speed the show up. Masterpiece Theater ... speeded up?

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:18 AM:

That Chinese story is pretty old: what's happening now? It certainly looks as though there is still a market for body parts in the USA.

And, looking at that old story and this new one, there's medical people who are endangering their patients. Time and distance alone make me think that buying from China would be medically unwise did those guys ever sell anything? This isn't quite as extravagant a scenario as the stolen-kidney urban legend, but...

#21 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:32 AM:

James quoted:

"But if it were that obvious, the Red Cross would have been finding its blood donors on Death Row, five quarts to a donor, since 1940 A.D. That has not been happening. Maybe it only took someone to point out the advantages. In which case blame it all on Larry Niven." -- afterword to The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton.

Well, maybe not since 1940, but certainly since the 1980s. And certainly not lethal draws. However, the prisoners' blood was not identified as coming from a suspect population, even though the incidence of diseases such as hepatitis are more common amongst prisoners, nor was the donor tested and screened before the blood draw. It wasn't identified as blood which had been taken from prisoners, either, blood which sometimes had been taken against their will -- unless you accept the argument that it is a meaningful choice to choose between giving blood or disciplinary action. Penal disciplinary action...isn't pretty.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 04:20 AM:

Sandy,

Burke, Hare, and . . .Mastromarino?

Actually, Burke and Hare never dug anyone up. That would have required creeping round burying grounds at night with wooden shovels and getting all grubby. Apart from their first corpse, which they diverted from burial, they took the much easier tactic of getting people drunk and smothering them.

Or, to put it in modern business speak, they constructed a vertically integrated supply chain that removed middlemen (natural death and burial) from the process to create a more efficient delivery model.

Nor, if anyone is interested, did they get caught when the prostitute they murdered was recognised by students who knew she had been alive and well very recently. She did have clients in the dissection room, but Dr Knox hushed the matter up. They were caught when one of their lodgers, having lost her stockings, looked under the bed...

#23 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 04:47 AM:

'You know, I am having a "Larry Niven Was Right" moment. I don't get that many of those.'

Even a stopped clock is an awful boring hack.

#24 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 04:49 AM:

Actually, I am feeling like doing a thirty page Dickens pastiche right about now.

#25 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 05:41 AM:

Well, while "flash crowd" doesn't mean exactly what he used it for (as we do not yet have the teleport system) there's a reason that term got used, and it's only partly the SF Geek Factor.

I have no use for the idea that predictiveness makes SF useful, but the "stopped clock" analogy really doesn't apply. I'll buy the "if you shoot enough bullets in the general direction of a target, one may well hit," but the clock isn't trying to say something about what time it is, or even what time it might be.

#26 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 08:50 AM:

A relative who works at a hospital in the southeastern US says they have also received a significant amount of tissue for implants that turned out to have come from cadavers whose surviving relatives had not authorized donation. This may turn out to be a very large and ongoing situation.

#27 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 09:19 AM:

See also the problem of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. It's big, it's lethal, and it's getting worse; stolen organs and mislabeled or dangerous materials are all part of the same problem, which is the capitalization of healthcare. (If it's expensive, it's profitable, and ethically challenged folks will inevitably be attracted to the honeypot.)

Yes, there is a solution. But it is politically unacceptable to the USA's ruling class (and, by extension, to the rest of their economic empire).

#28 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 10:51 AM:

Meanwhile, in today's Newsday was an article from a woman who got a potentially contaminated implant (bone, I think) last January. She got a letter from the hospital advising her to get HIV and hepatitis tests.

She's angry about the situation, and also angry that the hospital contacted her only by letter. Apparently they'd sent enough solicitations in the last several months that she almost didn't open the letter. The hospital claims to have tried to call her, and found that both numbers they had on file for her had been disconnected.

In her case, the transplant tissue had come via a Florida company that was supposed to have tested for contagious diseases, but the hospital felt it best to warn affected patients.

There are already lawsuits against the company that bought the tissue from the grave-robbers.

#29 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:16 AM:

The business of getting transplants from prisoners is extrapolated into a grim near-future in L. Timmel Duchamp's new short novel The Red Rose Rages (Bleeding). Well-done dystopian stuff -- I'll have a review in the Feb. '06 Locus,

#30 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 12:40 PM:

'I have no use for the idea that predictiveness makes SF useful, but the "stopped clock" analogy really doesn't apply.'

no, but it makes a better starting point for snarking at Niven than the hundred bullets analogy does.

#31 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Let's also not forget the several hundred Canadian citizens who contracted HIV from contaminated blood drawn from prisoners in Arkansas. I was never able to figure out why the vast right-wing conspiracy against Clinton ever brought it up--it actually happened while he was governor. I guess Whitewater sounded sexier.

The situation was unbelievably corrupt. They were actually getting kickbacks from the prisoners for the privilege of selling blood.

What astonishes me about the graverobbers in Brooklyn is that they were in Brooklyn--weren't they at all concerned about a back-alley malpractice suit?*

*Large relatives with baseball bats and poor attitudes.

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 06:20 PM:

CNN.com has a report on this today. Apparently the authorities exhumed the body of a woman and found several bones 'below the waist' (I'm assuming the legbones) had become PVC pipe.

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 06:30 PM:

"had become PVC pipe"

That's what you get for getting your hip replacement done by a cheap-ass HMO.

#34 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 06:55 PM:

*snerk*
Good thing my cup is empty and out of close reach. Or it would be all over the desk.

#35 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 10:11 PM:

alex,

I don't know that story--can you give me a pointer?

#36 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:11 PM:
The probe -- first reported by the Daily News in October -- has uncovered other gruesome images. In one instance, the corpse of a Queens grandmother that investigators exhumed last month had nearly all the bones removed below the waist and replaced with PVC pipes.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/12/23/body.snatching.ap/index.html

#37 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 04:03 AM:

"Per Aspel ad astra" &emdash; I can't think of that straight. The motto of my first, good,. English school was Per ardua ad astra, a phase in which stars were large heavenly bodies, not slender bodies in the entertainment industry.

As for Granny and the plastic drainpipes -- it is so disgusting that only another obscure english pop culture reference will rescue it: it should have happened to an aging teddy boy

#38 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 04:33 AM:

"the corpse of a Queens grandmother"
Whoa!
That one really jarred. "Queens" as a locality name is just so far down my list of associations with that word, that it took quite a bit of mental scuttling about to work that out.

It's illegal to pay money for "human tissues" in Australia, which is supposed to stop such-like trading, I'm not sure if that does really work.

#39 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 07:50 AM:

Were I to fully express my feeling about this situation, I would expect to be disemvowelled.
After the revelations here about the way in which US health system's vl nd dspcbl bhvr, wld nt nl nslt ths blgs rdrs, wld cll nt qstn th clm f th S t b cvlsd cntry, wrthy t stnd n th cmmnty f ntns. Wht srt f sck fckng xcs fr cvlsd cntry r y lvng n?

One would hope that a Brooklyn Malpractice Suit could be applied to all those responsible, but that isn't all that civilised. Hasn't a pack of lawyers formed yet?


#40 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2005, 10:41 PM:
Meanwhile, Russell Baker has been dismissed from his job as Mr. Cooke's successor at Masterpiece Theater. The Powers That Be decided to dispense with the introductory segment, so as to speed the show up. Masterpiece Theater ... speeded up?

Wikipedia notes that the decision to dispense with the host segment came shortly after the departure of MT's major sponsor. One suspects that speed was not, after all, the main consideration.

#41 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2005, 08:24 PM:

Since the point of the Masterpiece Theater intros, as I understand it, was to fill in time so the programs could begin and end exactly on the hour (American TV being much more anal-retentive about time slots than elsewhere), the cynic in me thinks that PBS ditched the intros to allow for more "enhanced underwriting credits" or whatever they call those commercials.

#42 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:06 AM:

adamsj:

There's lots of right-wing noise around the issue; a good starting place is here:

http://www.salon.com/news/1999/02/25news.html

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