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Issue 04/28/11 - Vol. 42, Issue 16

How Much Is That Organ in The Window
-by lyle e davis

Each year, thousands of patients throughout our nation await a donor for a heart, a liver, a kidney, a lung . . .any number of organs necessary to sustain life . . .and to make living easier.  They are all available.  For a price.  Sometimes a heavy price.  Sometimes a bargain basement price.  But are the bargains really bargains?  Take a look and judge for yourself.

In some quarters, the human body is no longer sacred but a commodity ready to be chopped up and exposed to the forces of supply and demand.  You and I may see our own body as an inviolate temple; but, wait . . .if we suddently find we need a spare part . . . are we a bit more open to a business transaction?  The statistics suggest that most of us are.

In the US and like-minded countries, it’s illegal to sell body parts—they can be taken only from those who filled out a donor card before they died or who are willing to give up an organ out of sheer benevolence. This means there isn’t enough tissue to go around. So, as with any outlawed or heavily regulated resource, a bustling underground trade has formed.

Sometimes the market in body parts is exploitive: Desperate people are paid tiny sums for huge donations. Other times it is ghoulish: Pieces are stolen from the recently dead. And ever so often, the resource grab is lethal—people are simply killed for their organs. This report will take a look at what body parts cost here . . . and around the world.  In addition to the parts themselves, we’ll look at the surgical costs.
There is a large market for transplant organs in the United States but most of the operations are done abroad. Scott G. Carney, who did an extensive amount of research and wrote of this phenomenon in Wired Magazine, points out: “Americans fly all over the world for kidney transplants, egg donations, surrogacy, adoptions and questionably legal surgeries. Hospitals in America generally do not perorm the operations themselves; instead it’s usually American  brokers who connect patients with foreign surgeons and hospitals. Either way it’s still huge business. And once the article came out I immediately started getting e-mails from US patients on the kidney transplant lists asking me to put them in touch with hospitals and brokers who could arrange transplants for them on the cheap.  

In discussions about his upcoming book ‘The Red Market”(release date May 31st), Carney goes on to say:

Red Markets are not simply a fact of life in the world, or a simple expression of supply and demand. Rather they exist because of lack of transparency in the legal supply chains for human tissue. There are very few cases where anyone will ever know who donated blood that saved their life in surgery, or what specific person gave up a kidney after their car accident. The identities of donors are screened behind a wall of patient confidentiality. While there are legitimate reasons to keep these things anonymous, that very lack of transparency provides great cover for an organ criminal to ply their trade. This is something that I go into much more detail in in my book–particularly the way that the crooked history of the blood business has shaped all modern red markets.

I’ve found many cases where those two things together provide cover for criminals and unethical doctors to cut corners and exploit their patients.

In rebuttal to Mr. Carney’s claims in his book, George Taniwaki, a software program manager in Bellevue, Washington, says:  “(Carney’s comments) leave the impression that these gruesome activities are commonly practiced in the U.S. They are not. Organ trafficking is outlawed in the U.S. by the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. No hospital or surgeon in the U.S. would dare violate the law and lose its accreditation or go to jail (despite what you see on TV

night-time soap operas). Outside the U.S., transplants that are suspected to exploit the donor are prohibited at any hospital that abides by the Declaration of Istanbul which denounces transplant tourism.

The story is followed by six pages listing the price of various types of transplant surgery in the U.S. Unfortunately, the data is illustrated using price tags. Thus, the reader may assume the price is for the organ only. Further, they may get the impression that there is an active black market for organs in the U.S. There is not.

By mixing practices in India with the U.S. and making it appear that organs are sold in the U.S., this (article) may deter rich Americans from donating their organs. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen for the global organ shortage to be mitigated.
The reality is that there are over 87,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney here in the US. Even with deceased donors, those who have marked on their license as an organ donor, the numbers simply are not enough to keep up with the demand for the number of people waiting for a kidney. The average wait is 5 years plus!

The only way that we can reduce this list is for there to be more living donors, who can participate in kidney pairings, and altruistic donors who again, can be the dominio of a large or small pairing.

Scott Carney responds to critics:
“While the rates that I used in this story are based on real transactions and the best available data, the actual price varies quite widely. Like most other commodities, organs tend to sell for what the market will bear, instead of an arbitrary price tag.

Sales to US customers for live organs are low in India, most international sales there are inter-south Asia. Or from the vast Indian diaspora. Worldwide, however, many Americans travel abroad to pay for organ transplants. There are also multiple US insurance companies that will pay for operations abroad.

It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest to allow unethical organ harvesting.

In 2007 China issued regulations banning the commercial trading of organs and the Chinese Medical Association agreed that the organs of prisoners should not be used for transplantation except for members of the immediate family of the deceased. Despite these, initiatives reported in August 2009 that approximately 65 of transplanted organs still came from death row prisoners.”

While it is convenient to point our fingers at India, China, and many other countries outside our immediate sphere of influence, our hands are not particularly clean when it comes to illegally harvesting body parts.

For example, Parker, Weichman, Alonso, LLP, a nationwide law firm, offered a legal commentary that pointed out . . . “While the scandal has been developing for several years, a logical starting point for a discussion of the problem is March 2004 when UCLA’s Director of the Willed Body Program, Henry Reid, was arrested and a criminal investigation launched into the activities of others at the University of California for the illegal sale of body parts.

That series of events focused attention on the fact that one cadaver could be dismembered and sold in parts for over $200,000 to the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

It became shockingly clear that illegal “chop shops” were not confined to the stolen automobile trade. There was, in fact, an underground network of body part traders who utilized university medical centers as “fronts” for their ghoulish business.

Advances in surgery and other medical techniques also fueled an underground trade in transplantable tissues and organs that quickly became a multi-billion dollar a year business.

Among the unspeakable horrors linked to this trafficking was the kidnapping of homeless children (for their transplantable tissues and organs) along the border between the U.S. and Mexico and the forced removal of organs from prisoners in third-world countries for sale in the U.S.

The probe of the UCLA Medical Center went back as far as 1998. Also arrested in March 2004 was Ernest Nelson, a body parts dealer who claimed to have paid Reid over $700,000 for permission to enter the UCLA body freezer and literally chop up some 800 cadavers and harvest their parts.
The cadavers stored at the university were supposed to be used exclusively by medical students for study. Nelson provided documentation to authorities that allegedly proved high level UCLA administrators had knowledge of and approved the secret sale of the body parts.

Reid, employees under his supervision, and others at the UCLA Medical Center appeared to have avoided detection by keeping some of the donated cadavers “off the books” and by possibly accepting cadavers that were never recorded.
At that time, there had been numerous reports of homeless persons vanishing from the downtown Los Angeles “Skid Row” area located close to UCLA. There had been unexplained disappearances of UCLA students as well. One of those students was 18-year-old freshman, Michael Negrete, who vanished from his dormitory on December 10, 1999, and has never been found.

The pharmaceutical and medical industries pay very well for a host of body parts including skin, scalps, fingernails, tendons, heart valves, skulls and bones, which then find there way into research, manufacturing of drugs, and replacement surgery.

Medical device and instrument manufacturers often use these harvested body parts in training seminars for doctors.

In 2004, Johnson & Johnson was named in court documents as having contracted with Nelson for certain human tissue samples.

In addition to such scandals as the University of California Medical Center being used to “launder” cadaver parts, are numerous underground clinics that perform transplants involving illegally obtained organs.

It is suspected that many of these organs are being taken from children kidnapped along the U.S. border with Mexico and transplanted into wealthy American patients in underground clinics in Mexico and Texas.
The burgeoning trade in human organs was the focus of a 2003 film titled “Dirty Pretty Things.” The film starred Audrey Tautou and was directed by Stephen Frears. It provided a glimpse into the hidden world of illegal immigrants and the trafficking in human organs that exploits their desperation for profit.

One of the serious problems with this illegal trafficking is that it circumvents all screening and testing procedures set up and maintained to ensure recipients will not receive diseased or otherwise contaminated tissue or organs. With the possibility that dozens of unsuspecting patients could receive tissue or bone from a single diseased cadaver, the potential for a medical catastrophe cannot be minimized.

All one needs to do is to consider the fact that, within the past few years, nine people have died as a result of receiving transplanted organs from only two donors infected with a rodent virus known as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).

Currently, a scandal with nationwide implications is unfolding in New York City. In Brooklyn, alone, some 1,000 corpses are part of the District Attorney’s investigations into the theft and sale of bones and other body parts removed from fresh corpses at several funeral homes, without permission, and sold to BioMedical Tissue Services, a Fort Lee, N.J., tissue recovery company run by Michael Mastromarino.

Bones and body parts were replaced with everything from broomsticks and pipes to plumbing supplies. It is even being alleged that body parts from British actor and host of Masterpiece Theatre, Allistaire Cooke ,were stolen and sold to BioMedical.

These illegally removed body parts include bones for orthopedic procedures and dental implants, tendons and ligaments for those with tears or other damage, and skin for burn victims and cosmetic surgery.

Unfortunately, the tissue and bones were harvested without regard to the cause of death and without proper screening for diseases and other contamination.

As a result, Lifecell Inc. announced a voluntary recall of three products made from body parts acquired from BioMedical Tissue Services. They are AlloDerm, used for plastic surgery, burn and periodontal procedures; Repliform used for gynecological and urological surgical procedures; and GraftJacket, used for orthopedic applications and lower extremity wounds.

In addition, many medical facilities and hospitals have been forced to notify patients of the possibility that they may have contracted any one or more of a number of serious and even life-threatening diseases from the bone or tissue grafts they received.

North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, for example, telephoned and sent letters to 42 former patients advising them that they may have been exposed to potentially contaminated body parts. The letters state the hospital had indirectly received human bone, skin and tendons from BioMedical Tissue Services which may not have properly screened them for infectious diseases.

Health officials are concerned that tens of thousands of people across the country, and possibly more on Long Island, may have been exposed by untested parts from BioMedical.

BioMedical is already being sued by two New York families who claim a relative’s body parts were stolen from the grave and sold to the New Jersey company. Hundreds are already being tested for various diseases.

Many of the body parts used on Long Island were purchased from BioMedical by a Florida tissue bank responsible for testing and sterilizing every body part it buys.

In an interview with Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, famed forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht discussed how something this ghoulish can happen in America.

He stated that when bodies were sent to certain Brooklyn funeral homes for the necessary embalming, consent forms were forged giving permission to remove “various bones, tendons, ligaments, heart valves, teeth and so on. Not major organs like heart and lungs and kidneys, because that just could not work.”

According to Wecht this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. “I’ve been involved in some cases over the years…they were doing this with eyes. A funeral director tied in with an autopsy technician in a large hospital, and they were taking out people’s eyes and selling them to foreign countries.”

Dr. Wecht noted that in forging the necessary documents, ages and causes of death were changed. “They eliminated things like cancer and put in heart disease.”

In October, the Food and Drug Administration directed the recall of all tissue harvested by BioMedical. It also urged that recipients of tissue that originated with BioMedical be tested for communicable diseases.

Additional litigation has been commenced in the form of a class-action on behalf of the estates of the 1,000-plus victims. “The tissue and organs that have been removed from our beloved brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, good friends, have gone to other people who are now having these diseased parts in them,” said Dainis Zeltins, whose brother’s body parts were stolen.

Mastromarino’s lawyer maintains that his client believed the tissue and bone pieces were sterilized by his distributors, Regeneration Technologies Inc. and Tutogen Medical. Mastromarino says “if they weren’t (sterilized), then that was the fault of the distributors who were sterilizing the tissue and cleaning it.”

Only yesterday came the announcement that five additional families in the Rochester (New York) area have joined the federal lawsuit that accuses BioMedical of unlawfully harvesting body parts without consent.

The expanded lawsuit also alleges three more funeral homes aided the scheme by providing access to bodies and failing to obtain proper consent.

Since more and more people are coming   forward in response to the initial suit being filed on March 7, the attorney representing the plaintiffs will ask that the lawsuit be designated a class action, allowing it to move forward on behalf of multiple plaintiffs with similar allegations.

A Brooklyn grand jury has already indicted Mastromarino, his partner, Joseph Nicelli, and two other men. Mastromarino ran BioMedical, Nicelli operated funeral homes, and the other men, Lee Crucetta and Chris Aldorasi, are alleged to have been the ones who cut up the bodies and replaced missing bones with creative carpentry and plumbing work.

Finally, as reported in nypress.com, there is an interesting angle to the story in terms of who was not named in the indictment; NYPD Detective Joseph Tully, Mastromarino’s business partner and operator of two funeral homes. Tully was also employed as a security guard at the Bronx County Medical Examiner’s office.

Although Tully appeared to be closely linked to the case, was named in the first two lawsuits, and was even the subject of an internal police department investigation, he has now mysteriously vanished from the matter. No public statement has been issued by the NYPD, Tully, or anyone else as to whether he was cleared of any culpability or still has some involvement.

Based upon the revelations so far in this case and the problem of illegal harvesting of body parts, tissue, and bones in general, there promises to be years of criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits, and revelations that would make Dr. Frankenstein proud.

April 8, 2006

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a UC Berkeley Professor of Medical Anthropology, founder of Organ Watch, author of scholarly books and articles on the subject, and "unflinchingly honest in (citing) the Israeli connection."
"Israel is at the top," she states. "It has tentacles reaching out worldwide. (It has) a pyramid system at work that's awesome....they have brokers everywhere, bank accounts everywhere; they've got recruiters, they've got translators, they've got travel agents who set up the visas."
They pay "the poor and the hungry to slowly dismantle their bodies" or simply take what they want from fresh corpses. Body parts are commodities, to be harvested and sold to the rich, even though organ sales are prohibited in most countries, but not in international law.

She went on to say: “the Israeli Ministry of Defense is involved in a practice by which "bodies are broken, dismembered, fragmented, transported, processed, and sold in the interests of a more socially advantaged population....," Israel engaging in more of this globally than any other nation.
Its medical teams apparently are doing it in Haiti, exploiting fresh corpses and the living. The Manar TV cited You Tube said "there are people operating in Haiti who do not have a conscience and are members of the search and rescue teams, including the Israeli occupation forces," far from home harvesting Haitian organs, and the pickings are plentiful.

So what is one to do if one needs a spare body part?? A heart, a lung, a kidney?  When supposedly distinguished schools such as UCLA have been complicit in illegal body part harvesting and selling?  When major surgeons with supposedly distinguished credentials do not properly vet the source of their tissues, bones, and organs?  What can be done?

The chance is slim that a loved one's body or body parts will be stolen for personal profit after he or she dies, but the following are some suggested tips to help prevent theft:
• Witness the cremation. If the loved one is to be cremated, more crematoriums today have set up viewing rooms where family members can watch the body be put into the cremation furnace.
• When a loved one dies, family members may agree to donate some or all of the body for research or transplant. The family should ask for and keep a copy of the consent form that was signed. It should include information on what the family agreed to donate.
• Research the funeral home that is chosen, who the owner may be, what his or her affiliations are. While the request may be legitimate, family members should be cautious if a funeral operator also approaches to ask about donating the body.

Source: Annie Cheney, Body Brokers: Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains.