23 February 2006

Body Part Thieves

The television here at Avianos this morning is noting the recent arrests of a group of people who were stealing body parts from funeral homes and selling them to tissue banks. Without a doubt this is illegal, non-consentual, and a source of great emotional harm to the families of the persons whose body parts are stolen if the theft is discovered.

But, as crimes go, I'd argue that the harm to society is far more modest than most kinds of theft. To the extent that the families of the persons whose body parts were stolen didn't discover the thefts (and in the ordinary course there would be no way for them to discover this absent an extremely unusual exhumation), they would suffer no economic or emotional harm.

Furthermore, unlike the purchaser in a drug deal, the person who ends up receiving those tissues is undoubtably much improved. Indeed, those tisues could actually save someone's life. Even an ordinary thief, like the ones who twice stole my car stereo this summer, almost always do more harm to the victim than they gain. The radio thefts from me this summer netted the thieves about $40 total, according to my insurance expert's recounting of law enforcement testimony. But, the harm to me was about $1,200, plus about eight hours of lost work all told dealing with insurance companies, body shops and rental car companies. In contrast, tissue thieves generally enhance the value to society of what they steal.

So, here's hoping that while these thieves are punished, because they have committed a crime, that the punishment will be more lenient than another crime of comprable economic value.

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