Dead hand of graft and cor­rup­tion

Over My Dead Body 8.30pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

VIEW­ERS who switch to this pro­gram in the ex­pec­ta­tion of watch­ing a quirky Bri­tish black com­edy ( and I wasn’t the only one) will be sadly dis­ap­pointed. It starts promis­ingly enough with a mother and daugh­ter at the kitchen ta­ble telling the story of the sud­den death of Richard, their hus­band and son. Richard is the nar­ra­tor, which sets up all sorts of in­ter­est­ing dra­matic pos­si­bil­i­ties, and is voiced by Bren­dan Cow­ell, who shot to promi­nence in Love My Way and has rarely been off a screen or stage since.

Even more promis­ingly, Richard makes his ap­pear­ance as a naked ca­daver be­ing wheeled into the morgue, say­ing: ‘‘ Time for the dead to speak up. You can’t know me; but maybe I died for you.’’

But by now it’s ap­par­ent Over My Dead Body is a doc­u­men­tary about or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion and the health risks posed by shys­ters ex­ploit­ing the com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties of a bur­geon­ing new field.

This is a sub­ject Aus­tralians in par­tic­u­lar are re­luc­tant to dis­cuss or con­sider. Only one in four Aus­tralians ticks the box be­fore they die to be­come an or­gan and- or tis­sue donor, and their num­bers are re­duced by the way in which they die.

A cer­tain way of dy­ing is re­quired. As Richard tells us: ‘‘ The best of us or­gan donors go sud­denly, they say. Never much of a warn­ing. It’s how you die that’s the im­por­tant thing.’’

Some of the latest tech­nol­ogy is pro­filed in the pro­gram, in­clud­ing a skin prod­uct called Al­loDerm, which was de­vel­oped by Aus­tralian sci­en­tist Stephen Livesey.

The skin is the hard­est or­gan to trans­plant, pro­vok­ing the most ex- treme im­mune re­ac­tion, but Livesey has de­vel­oped a method al­low­ing skin cells to be taken from dead peo­ple and turned into a skin graft that doesn’t pro­voke an im­mune re­ac­tion.

The pro­gram also il­lus­trates the dan­gers of the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of such tech­niques, when it was re­vealed that un­scrupu­lous prof­i­teers were har­vest­ing skin in col­lu­sion with a funeral di­rec­tor in the US and sell­ing it to Al­loDerm with faked con­sent forms.

Sim­i­larly, bones from ca­dav­ers are ground into a prod­uct called Crunch and used to fill in gaps left by can­cer and other dis­eases. One mar­ke­teer stole the bones from ca­dav­ers, re­plac­ing them with PVC pipes so the fam­i­lies wouldn’t re­alise.

It’s a wor­thy sub­ject but is closer in style to a Four Cor­ners or 60 Min­utes news re­port than a doc­u­men­tary.

The viewer is on the edge of the seat not from dra­matic ten­sion but be­cause of the ick fac­tor. Ex­pect an up- close look at a skin graft be­ing taken with an im­ple­ment re­sem­bling a potato peeler and bones be­ing ground by an ap­pli­ance that looks sus­pi­ciously like one of those elec­tric parme­san cheese graters.

Jus­tine Fer­rari

Tis­sue trans­plants: Sci­en­tist Stephen Livesey on Over My Dead Body

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