Dead hand of graft and corruption
Over My Dead Body 8.30pm, ABC
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.
Tissue transplants: Scientist Stephen Livesey on Over My Dead Body