He is known only as B-199. He died of encephalitis at the age of 34 in April, 1955, which is when he took what may have been the longest trip of his life, to serve the cause of science.
A doctor at Vancouver General Hospital answered the clarion call of nuclear research and shipped him to the United States, where he was cremated and his ashes subjected to intense scrutiny in an effort to find out whether the nuclear-weapons testing that dominated the Cold War landscape was poisoning the world.
B-199 was just one of at least 127 people from the Vancouver area whose bodies were used by U.S. researchers in a five-year project, run out of the University of Chicago and concluded in 1958. Their incinerated bones were used to measure radioactive fallout from the above-ground nuclear weapons tests that the United States and the Soviet Union conducted almost weekly.
The researchers, working under Nobel laureate Willard Libby, called their work Project Sunshine because they believed radioactive fallout was as ubiquitous as sunshine.
They examined animals, food and water around the world for evidence of fallout. They also examined human bones, including those belonging to B-199.
There was little glory for B-199 or anyone else whose remains were scrutinized.
About 6,000 corpses from 26 "bone collection sites" around the world were shipped under top-secret conditions to the project's headquarters in Chicago and to a satellite research office at Columbia University in New York.
The researchers' findings have been known for many years -- indeed, they paved the way for a cessation of atmospheric tests -- but recently declassified documents have detailed how the bone samples were collected.
The Australian government yesterday launched an investigation after reports in British newspapers outlined how the bodies of stillborn babies were taken from Australian hospitals for use in the U.S. study.
A spokesman for Health Minister Allan Rock yesterday declined to comment, saying that her department was unaware of the reports.
Dr. Libby, who died in 1980, was interested in strontium 90, considered the most hazardous component of radioactive fallout.
Strontium behaves much like calcium, and scientists were concerned that people were absorbing it into their skeletons. They were particularly concerned that children would absorb larger amounts of strontium than adults because their bones were still growing.
The problem was that it was difficult with contemporary devices to measure strontium in living people. The best way to measure its concentration was to cremate the remains of the dead and analyze the resulting ash with sensitive radiochemical techniques.
It is likely that Vancouver was drawn into the project in 1955, two years after it had begun. At the time, Dr. Libby appeared to be worried about not getting enough human samples to validate their initial findings because his supply of stillborns had been cut off.
"Human samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, they will really be serving their country," he said at a Jan. 18, 1955, meeting convened by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
Lawrence Kulp, of Columbia, who had succeeded Dr. Libby as the project's director, said he had developed a back-door channel to obtain cadavers in several cities, among them Vancouver, Houston and New York.
An investigation into this "body-snatching" program and 4,000 other experiments from 1944 to 1974 was ordered in 1994 by then U.S. president Bill Clinton. A year later, the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments concluded that "researchers employed deception in the solicitation of bones of deceased babies from intermediaries with access to human remains."
Documents released by the committee show, however, that it wasn't just stillborn babies who provided bone samples.
The project's 1955-56 annual report lists Dr. W.B. Leach of the pathology department at Vancouver General as the contact for the local "bone collection site."
The report shows that Vancouver provided at least 127 of the 1,300 human bones samples collected in 1955 from around the world. The age of those whose corpses were shipped to the United States ranged from 34 to 87. There is no mention in the report of stillborns.
The report said that one of the Vancouver samples provided the highest strontium level, about 660 times the concentration found normally.
Larry Arbeiter, a spokesman for the University of Chicago, said Project Sunshine's operations have to be put in the context of the time, when procedures for disposing of human remains were not as rigid as they are now.
The Clinton advisory committee, which disbanded in 1995, similarly warned against retrospective moral judgment.
"Is it correct to evaluate the events, policy and practices of the past . . . against ethical standards and values that we accept as valid today but that may not have been widely accepted then?" it asked.