On TikTok you can find everything from funny videos to others that teach you about nutrition, computers or other languages. However, there are also videos that cover sensitive, questionable, or unusual topics, such as those by user JonsBones, who has more than 500,000 followers and 22 million likes.
JonsBones, whose real name is Jon-Pichaya Ferry, is a 21-year-old boy who sells bones from the human body, such as spines and fetus skulls. He lives in New York and from there he operates his online business, where you can buy ribs for $ 18 and skulls for approximately $ 2,000.
JonsBones, the controversial company and TikTok account
According to Ferry, who spoke with ABC News, the bones come from “medical sources that were used for education”, such as research organizations, museums and universities, but also from people who inherited collections of bones from relatives who worked in the medical field (and who probably wanted to dispose of spooky heritage).
Those who buy from Ferry range from “chiropractors to universities to artists,” though he also says he sells bones to search and rescue teams that train dogs to find missing people.
The idea of running this business started when Ferry was little and his father gave him a mouse skeleton. “Rather than take it in a dark and creepy way, I really looked at it in fascination and wonder,” Ferry said.
That is why for him the issue of bones is nothing from another world. But in addition to his curious interest, what drives him to keep his business is the idea that people can learn about real bones without having to go to a museum or medical school. In fact, Ferry has very clear objectives: to make osteology (the study of bone anatomy) accessible and “destigmatize a stigmatized industry.”
Building on that business, the human bone collector and distributor set up a TikTok account in early 2020, where he shares data on human anatomy, shows how forensic anthropologists use bones in their investigations, and exposes his collection of human remains.
In that way, he began to transform himself into an authority on bones. However, Ferry is neither an anthropologist nor a forensic osteologist (he studies the latter), but his specialty is buying and distributing human remains.
In a video, Ferry admitted that many of the remains in his collection come from China, India and Russia, and probably belonged to poor people, particularly lower castes. He also said the remains were cleaned up in India before Western companies bought them and distributed them to private collectors.
On the other hand, Ferry added that the objective of his company is to obtain what remains of those remains from private collectors and “return” them to the medical community, but the origins of his inventory only served to stoke the indignation of Internet users.
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The ethical dilemma of selling human remains
While for some people Ferry’s motives for selling real bones may seem reasonable, for others it may be a disturbing topic or something uncomfortable to watch at least on TikTok, a video platform where people usually have fun.
In addition, there has been a general debate about what Ferry does, both because of his lack of education in osteology and the ethics and legality of his business and the commercial bone industry in general.
This is why Ferry has been criticized by other TikTok users and content creators as well as by teachers. “They are not stones to collect. Have respect, “commented user Wasianbarbi3, while others have asked, for example, how can you guarantee that the remains are” ethically sourced “if you don’t have a way to really trace their provenance?
Robyn Wakefield Murphy, an assistant professor of anatomy at New York Chiropractic College who studies skeletal remains and is known at Tiktok as BonesandBotany85, said: “Human remains should never be sold. There are legitimate and ethical ways for institutions and researchers to obtain human bodies for research, and that is through cadaver donation programs. “
Another person who has raised the issue is Tanya Marsh, a law professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She teaches courses on legal issues related to death, funerals, and cemeteries.
For Marsh, selling human remains “is unethical because there is no consent,” adding that “people do not ask to be skeletonized before they die, especially when it comes to fetal skulls.”
“It is not the bones of the privileged members of society that end up being sold; they are of the people who are marginalized while they are alive, and they are more dehumanized and marginalized during the death ”, sentenced Marsh.
Is it legal to sell human remains?
While it is unethical to sell human remains, it can be done legally, at least in the United States. Current law allows the possession, sale, or distribution of human remains, unless they are Native American; These are protected by the Native American Tombs Protection and Repatriation Act enacted in 1990.
However, despite being legal, on some platforms the sale of human remains is not allowed, such as eBay, or on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. It is also prohibited in some states of the country.
Ferry mentioned that it does not send the human remains to the states of Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana or outside the United States, where there are limitations or prohibitions related to its sale.
On the other hand, when asked if he believed he was exploiting human remains, he replied: “I think that when it comes to human osteology, it is an extremely sensitive issue.”
“The original purpose of these pieces is education and understanding,” says Ferry, who added in an interview with Mashable: “These pieces are not decoration, they are teaching tools and have a very important purpose.”
Even so, he mentioned that he does not know what his customers do with their purchase, since for him the situation is similar to when someone buys a prescription drug. “It’s very difficult for the medical company to be able to track exactly how the customer or patient will use that prescription,” Ferry said.
Finally, and despite all the criticism, the tiktoker he plans to continue using the platform to educate his viewers.
“As I am one of the most visible people in the industry, I understand why people may direct their concerns to me about marginal parts of the bone trade that even I do not approve of. I welcome dialogue on the bone industry and truly believe that the more we talk about it, the more we benefit, ”concluded Ferry.