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The Body of the Enemy

Human Trafficking
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Donald Bostr̦m

The biomedical abuse and plunder of dead bodies for usable organs and tissues is a widespread and extremely controversial practice that continues to this day. This article documents a troubling history of abuse of dead bodies that were brought to the Israeli National Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir (a neighborhood of Tel Aviv) for autopsy during the crucial and tumultuous period between 1988 and October 2012. Allegations of tissue and organ confiscation were longstanding, beginning in 1999 when a newly trained Israeli pathologist, Dr. Chen Kugel, joined the institute and realized that something was very wrong. He observed legal autopsies ending in illicit dissections; he witnessed the removal and retention of organs, tissues, and other body parts that were later stockpiled and distributed for various ends that included medical training, scientific research, pseudoresearch, and skin and cornea transplants. Dr. Kugel sought to make the institute's administration aware of the illicit practices of individuals such as Dr. Yehuda Hiss, a state-appointed senior pathologist who served as the institute's first director. Dr. Kugel's efforts were initially rebuffed by the government, which set up a weak investigation of the situation and ultimately failed attempts to"clean up" the institute in order to rescue its reputation. The struggle also cost the ethical pathologist his position. As long as the story was kept inside Israel, the government and the Israeli Ministry of Health tolerated the illicit and arguably criminal practices.1