WBEZ | us customs http://www.wbez.org/tags/us-customs Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago customs seizes 18 heads meant for research http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-customs-seizes-18-heads-meant-research-104930 <p><p>It sounded ghoulish enough: a shipment of 18 frozen human heads discovered and seized by customs officials during routine X-ray screening of cargo arriving at O&#39;Hare International Airport in Chicago.</p><p>Turns out the heads were used for medical research in Italy and were being returned for cremation in Illinois. The holdup was due to a paperwork problem.</p><p>It just so happens such shipments are commonplace, and heads &mdash; quite a few of them &mdash; crisscross the globe via airplane and delivery truck.</p><p>&quot;Just last week, we transported eight heads, unembalmed, to Rush University Medical Center for an ophthalmology program,&quot; said Paul Dudek, director of the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which supplies cadavers and body parts to medical schools in the state for training students.</p><p>His association sends about 450 whole cadavers to medical schools each year and also ships individual body parts, including about a dozen shipments of heads annually.</p><p>The heads are used for training in fields such as dentistry, ophthalmology and neurology, where they are used for Alzheimer&#39;s research. They are also used to train plastic surgeons and by students learning to perform facial reconstructions on accident and trauma victims, Dudek said.</p><p>Most cadavers are obtained through voluntary donation by people who designate a willingness to have their bodies benefit science upon their death, Dudek said. A much smaller proportion are the bodies of people whose families could not afford their burial and so agree to allow the state to release them for research.</p><p>The shipment to O&#39;Hare was properly preserved, wrapped and labeled &quot;human specimens,&quot; said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner&#39;s Office, which took hold of the shipment on Monday for storage in its morgue cooler while authorities continued to investigate the paperwork.</p><p>With little information initially, news of the shipment&#39;s discovery fueled headlines and raised questions about where the shipment came from, where it was headed and why.</p><p>In the end, it turned out the shipment of three containers, which arrived in mid-December, was held up because of a mix-up with the paperwork and there was nothing suspicious about it or its destination.</p><p>The heads were originally sent from Illinois to a medical research facility in Rome and were returned to the Chicago area for disposal as part of the agreement for the order, Paleologos said.</p><p>On Tuesday, a cremation service arrived at the Medical Examiner&#39;s Office with paperwork for the specimens. Once federal authorities confirm the paperwork, the specimens will be turned over to the cremation service, she said.</p><p>U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not discuss the specific case because of privacy laws, but it said shipments of human remains into the U.S. &quot;are not without precedent,&quot; are lawful with the right documentation and fall within the agency&#39;s &quot;low-risk&quot; category.</p><p>Dudek said such shipments require thorough documentation, in part because the scarcity of bodies donated to science means there is a black market for them.</p><p>&quot;It does go on,&quot; he said of the illegal trade.</p><p>Besides medical schools, many corporations making medical instruments and appliances use cadavers for their training and research programs.</p><p>&quot;We receive about 600 whole-body donations a year. I could easily place 750, 800,&quot; he said, explaining the short supply.</p><p>Some shipments go by air, but others end up in delivery trucks just like any other package.</p><p>&quot;In fact, we sent out a shipment of brains to the University of Texas at Austin last week via UPS,&quot; Dudek said.</p></p> Tue, 15 Jan 2013 10:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-customs-seizes-18-heads-meant-research-104930