10 Unique Uses for Human Cadavers

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The intact body of a deceased human is a valuable thing, with the kidneys alone being valued at $160,000 on some black markets. Some of the following options aren’t nearly as practical or intuitive, but they all confront us with the banal nature of our own mortality and remind us that these bodies we devote so much time and energy to maintaining are just lumps of tissue. Enjoy!

10. Collision Testing

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For decades, various news outlets reported that German auto company Daimler-Benz was having the University of Heidelberg perform crash tests using dead bodies. Of particular interest was the fact that some of the 300 bodies used between the 1970s and ’90s were those of children. Protests sprang up over an endeavor clearly meant to save the lives of more children, because thinking of the children doesn’t extend to those who are still breathing. Regardless, the practice of using human bodies instead of more expensive crash test dummies continues in some areas. Admittedly, the process is ghoulish — just before a body gets used the lungs are inflated to better simulate a human body. It’s as if the breath of life is being pumped into them, just so it can be knocked back out again.

9. Design and Architecture

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You might have heard that there’s a cathedral made of bones in Europe that was built around the time of the Black Death. What you’re less likely to have heard of is that there are numerous cathedrals made with human remains, and they’re not exclusive to Europe. For example, there’s the Church of San Francisco in Lima, Peru, which has the bones of an estimated 75,000 people arrayed in its catacombs.

These elaborate works raise some uncomfortable questions. Take the skull chandelier above. How were the skulls prepared? Were they put in containers with hungry bugs, boiled, or just dug up? Why such an elaborate design? Is that chandelier supposed to invoke someone’s view of heaven? Hard as it might be to believe, we’re beginning to feel creeped out by the thought of bone buildings.

8. Movie Props

There are numerous examples of real dead bodies being used for horror films. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre features them. The Chinese film Men Behind the Sun features an autopsy performed on a real dead boy. But the taker of the cake baked with people is the indie horror Unrest. Since the movie is set in a morgue and was shot in a real one, as many real props as possible were used. Multiple dead bodies were used for some extremely graphic footage. In fact, the use of real bodies was a significant part of the movie’s promotional campaign. Unfortunately for those who posthumously broke into acting, the general consensus is that Unrest isn’t very good.

7. Deterrents

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We’ve all heard of the idea of putting dead bodies in public places to scare potential criminals straight. It’s also hardly a novel notion to tarnish the legacies of tyrants by displaying their bodies. It’s a punishment that’s been used all through history and all around the world, and apparently the primal desire to see our enemies humiliated hasn’t dissipated. In May 2014, photos were leaked from Syria of crucifixion victims during the Civil War. And in 2011, photos of the body of Colonel Gaddafi after he’d been beaten and killed were leaked online, and even intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens admitted that there was some satisfaction in seeing the dictator dead.

6. Grafts

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Anyone who ever looked at a driver’s license knows that those valuable organs of yours can be donated in the event of your death. There’s even an ongoing debate in America over whether people should be allowed to sell their organs after their deaths for the benefit of their survivors. To complicate matters, since 1981 there’s been a shortage of cadaver skin to use in burn treatments, with some areas such as West Texas not having any at all. Graftable human skin has a shelf life of only one month, and treating a person that has suffered severe burns can require skin donations from as many as 10 dead people. So hopefully you can understand why TopTenz fully endorses presumed consent in regards to organ donation.

5. Art

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Art is always looking for a new envelope to push, and what could be edgier than working with the dead? The first to achieve fame doing this was Honoré Fragonard (1743-1809), who dug up graves to find corpses that were essentially turned into statues. Rather than being an underground artist (except literally during the grave-robbing) he was officially sanctioned to create these horror pieces. All sorts of rumors inevitably surrounded the maker of these frightening sculptures, but according to historical sources that preserve his work he was a pretty regular guy.

4. Magic Props

In the 1700s, dead tissue was “reanimated” by Luigi Galvani by way of applying electricity to the legs of frogs. Despite the scientific applications of the experiment, the show biz implications naturally took over. By 1803, Galvani’s nephew was doing public demonstrations of how he could use electricity to induce movements in cadavers. In 1818 a demonstration by Andrew Ure supposedly went so far as to make the corpse point a finger at the audience. However, public distaste for the practice seemed to quickly put an end to that form of exhibition.

At least until 2013, when magician Criss Angel used a dead body to spice up one of his illusions for his show BeLIEve. The nature of the magic trick was again that he was attempting to reanimate the body. Supposedly it was done so covertly that the cast and crew had to go to the location of the bodies while wearing blindfolds. So you magicians hoping to spice up your next kid’s birthday party gig should realize how much of a hassle this would be to organize.

3. Surgical Practice

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You would think that in modern times the use of corpses for surgery training would be out of date. We have surgical simulation software and that sort of thing, and in fact in the United Kingdom the use of corpses was illegal until 2006. But not only are surgeons-in-training still using corpses, new embalming methods are being researched to allow for more flexible tissue during practice. Why the removal of organs is permitted but this other use was considered so disrespectful to the dead that it needed to be outlawed in a way that interfered with the ability of surgeons to improve their skills is difficult to fathom.

2. Metal

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Speaking of out of date, it seems like even the maddest scientist and most desperate criminal would have abandoned grave-robbing decades ago. But in 2004, a strange variation that’s more like “crematorium recycling” began in the United Kingdom. The metals that are left over after a body has been burned (artificial hips, teeth fillings, etc.) are being taken from the ashes of thousands of people, and it’s all perfectly legal. As of 2013 it was yielding more than 75 tons of metal. If you’re disgusted by the process, there’s consolation in the fact that it’s making millions of pounds for charity, and the metal itself is used for everything from street signs to airplane engines. For us, it seems a shame how much usable metal is being wasted by burial or was wasted before the program was started.

1. Tree Fertilizer

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It’s oddly beautiful to picture your nutrients being used to help a tree grow after your death. In 2011 the company Bios Urns began offering biodegradable urns which would have a seed placed in them, so after your short, hectic life is over you can become part of something peaceful and permanent. With its color scheme and materials it looks like something Starbucks should be serving coffee in, but the end result promises to be pretty enough to make up for it if you’re a nature lover.

Dustin Koski is constantly looking for new ways to use his dead bodies. See if he finds any on Facebook.

Like the idea of something weird happening to your corpse after you pass on?
Start planning with our list of 10 unusual death rituals. Or, if you’re less thrilled by the prospect of your lifeless body being posed or dissected, consider a move to one of the 10 places where people live the longest.

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1 Comment

  1. That guy in the picture from #6 obviously had the wrong surgeon. You don’t use that kind of grafts in the face. It works just fine but you get a huge ass scar. It’s common practice to take the skin from the person’s forhead.

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