-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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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