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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Body Bag

     A good body bag gives up no clues. Little about what it contains should not be detected by any of the five senses of the observer. And nothing should be presumed--not even the length of what's inside. Death, after all, changes everything. And unnatural death changes everything absolutely.

     The Office of the New York City Medical Examiner orders about 8,000 body bags each year; Philadelphia's M.E., about 3,000; and Milwaukee's about 2,000. Massachusetts offices prefer shrouds, which are more like plastic envelopes folded and welded at the ends. They order 5,000.

     The same polyvinyl chloride used to make pipes can be woven into flexible fabric of varying degrees of strength. Some body bags will be dragged over long distances of rugged underbrush; others will be hoisted on the rocker legs of helicopters. Bags may need to be nothing more than short-term storage compartments, or nothing less than unconditionally leakproof vessels of somber transport. Zippers can swoop around the edges of the bag or run right down the middle. Handles, rivets and locks are optional.

     These days most body bags are white. That way you don't miss much--the red carpet fiber, the black hair, a chartreuse fleck of paint. You can see a lot, if you know how to look. [With the recent spike in murders, there are body bag shortages in some cities. Cadaver bags range in cost from $25 to $125 and can be purchased from Amazon.]

Michael Badin, M. D. and Marion Roach, Dead Reckoning, 2001

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