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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


At $2,200, a specimen available online from Skulls Unlimited is a real deal.

Unlike other skulls sold by this Oklahoma-based, open-to-the-public retailer, it comes with a sturdy carrying case. There's no need to purchase a container to protect it from breakage and prying eyes if the buyer wants to transport it.

For those wondering, this is not a replica. It's marketed as authentic, meaning it was once a person. Where a potential buyer would need to take it, and why it would be showcased, is an uncomfortable question.

There are certainly legitimate scientific uses for a real human skull. But do Minnesotans want skulls and other human bones sold as curiosities to just anyone?

That unusual though timely question was front and center at a Minnesota legislative committee hearing on Monday. Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, has commendably introduced legislation that would prohibit sales of human remains — specifically "the calcified portion of a dead human body" — for commercial purposes.

If HF 3490 is ultimately enacted, Minnesota would be among the first states to ban the sales of human bones for reasons that don't involve a public good, such as education, research or law enforcement needs. The law should pass.

Recent news stories have put a grim spotlight on the surprising demand outside scientific channels for human remains. On Feb. 1, the Star Tribune reported that a White Bear Lake tattoo shop owner admitted to participating in a "nationwide network that prosecutors say bought and sold body parts from Harvard Medical School and an Arkansas mortuary."

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which is prosecuting the case, the trafficked remains were allegedly stolen from Harvard and the Arkansas facility.

While there are laws on the books for theft, the disposition of donated bodies is at best lightly regulated. It's not difficult to see how abuses might occur when sales of adult human remains are also legal in most states. And apparently, fetch considerable sums.

U.S. House Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Florida Republican, is commendably leading the charge to address this. Last year, he introducing the Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act.

The bill would "create standards for registration, inspection, chain of custody, labeling and packing, and proper disposition. It would also create a registration and tracking system for bodies and body parts donated for research," according to a Bilirakis news release.

Bilirakis's bill has yet to gain sufficient traction in Congress. Becker-Finn's bill is a sensible state remedy in the meantime.

In an interview, Becker-Finn said she was inspired to act after a staffer visited a Twin Cities shop selling human bones. She then learned that "state law is silent on the issue." Among her objections: the "commodification" of human beings. She noted that remains were once someone's loved ones and deserve to be treated with dignity.

The bill would reduce the incentives for commercial sales of human remains, a laudable goal. It's not clear why people want these, but news stories have reported a "thriving" online community of body part collectors. There are also shops offering human bones as macabre or goth additions to home decor.

The Minnesota legislation also has the support of the Minnesota Funeral Directors' Association. "We believe strongly that allowing the sales of human remains for profit runs counter to the core values of our society," the organization said in a statement shared with legislators earlier this month.

Still, lawmakers should hear all sides of the argument as they work on this bill. Adam DeJarlais owns Twelve Vultures, a metro shop offering a wide variety of natural curiosities, including human bones. "I only purchase human bones from sellers with provenance or reputable collectors," he told an editorial writer.

He opposes the bill. "How is a human bone any different from an animal's if the item was obtained through the proper channels? Seems like more of a philosophical argument than a legislative one," DeJarlais said.

We suspect most Minnesotans are far less comfortable with selling human remains than DeJarlais is. Becker-Finn's bill is a step in the right direction, and congressional action is needed on the Bilirakis legislation as well.