Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The New Age Chop Shop

I’m all in favor of recycling.

Take those advertising flyers, pizza boxes, Progresso cans, and shredded credit card statements, please.

And, when I think about, my recycling largesse extends to my body parts. (Posthumously, that is.) If, when I succumb in my great old age, and if there are any spare parts worth salvaging, let the salvagers have at it. Eventually, I’d like what’s left to be cremated but if anything’s usable, hey, all of me, why not take all of me. (Just make sure I’m truly a goner before you start hacking away. Embalming is a good thing. As long as I’m truly a goner before you start. Hmmmm.)

Unfortunately, the body parts biz is not particularly on the up and up, as I saw recently on Huff Po.

Last February, Ukrainian officials, who were probably looking for young women being invited to “model” in the U.S. and/or stolen RPG’s and other such materiel that’s still ratcheting around the outposts of the former USSR, came across something else:

…bones and other human tissues crammed into coolers in a grimy white minibus.

Investigators grew even more intrigued when they found, amid the body parts, envelopes stuffed with cash and autopsy results written in English.

No, the body parts weren’t destined for the fridge of a Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe.  They were headed instead for companies that make medical/dental products based on the human element. In this case, the van was headed for Germany, to a factory that’s a subsidiary of RTI Biologics:

…a leading provider of sterile biological implants for surgeries around the world, with a commitment to advancing science, safety and innovation. RTI prepares donated human tissue and bovine tissue for transplantation through extensive testing and screening, precision shaping and proprietary, validated sterilization processes. These allograft [that would be coming from a human] and xenograft [that would be coming from something other than a human; in this case I guess that would be a cow] implants are used in spine, sports medicine, orthopedic, dental and other surgical specialties.

RTI is just one of many who turn remains before they become cremains “into everything from dental implants to bladder slings to wrinkle cures” and new eyes (through corneal transplants) and new knees (recycled tendons and ligaments. (Back to HuffPo as the source here.)

The problem is not that these outfits are using human tissue, much of which is donated by folks who’ve lost a loved one. (Albeit most of them are probably not aware that someone’s turning around the making a profit off of their donation). The problem is that some of this material is spirited away without the families ever knowing about it. Which is suspected in the Ukrainian case, which may have been part of a rip-out rip off.

…leaving behind what investigators described as potentially dozens of "human sock puppets" -- corpses stripped of their reusable parts.

Well, “human sock puppet” sure has a different ring to it than allograft and xenograft, doesn’t it?

RTI’s not talking, but:

In public statements the company says it "honors the gift of tissue donation by treating the tissue with respect, by finding new ways to use the tissue to help patients and by helping as many patients as possible from each donation."

But maybe, just maybe, they’re turning a blind, pre-corneal transplant to where some of their overseas “goods” are coming from.

Apparently the tracking and safeguards that thankfully keep those of us in the U.S. from “benefiting” from a lung or kidney ripped out of a poor schmuck living somewhere “over there” aren’t in place when it comes to the tissue and skin trade.

And sometimes, unbeknownst to the family, parts get recycled. As was the case with the family of a young Ukrainian man. At his funeral, his parents noticed that his wrists were slit.

They later learned that his body parts had been recycled and shipped off as "anatomical material."

Once the parts make their way into the system – legitimately or not – the tracking’s not much better. When tissue is found to have some type of infection, it’s not always possible to figure out who’s new knee, say, may have a touch of HIV in it.

Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, the CDC's director of blood and biologics, had this to say:

"We have barcodes for our [breakfast] cereals, but we don't have barcodes for our human tissues," Kuehnert said. "Every patient who has tissue implanted should know. It's so obvious. It should be a basic patient right. It is not. That's ridiculous."

It may be ridiculous, but if some of that tissue is being body-snatched in the Ukraine and makes it’s way to the U.S. through a German intermediary, well, your papers aren’t always going to be in order.

This is, as you can imagine, a pretty profitable business:

A single, disease-free body can spin off cash flows of $80,000 to $200,000 for the various non-profit and for-profit players involved in recovering tissues and using them to manufacture medical and dental products, according to documents and experts in the field.

Proving once again that a lot of people are worth more dead than alive. Except that you can’t – not in this country, anyway – “buy or sell human tissue.” But there are those mysterious “processing” fees. (When you order baseball or concert tickets, it’s the so-called “convenience fee.”)

Ground-level body wranglers in the U.S. can get as much as $10,000 for each corpse they secure through their contacts at hospitals, mortuaries and morgues. Funeral homes can act as middlemen to identify potential donors. Public hospitals can get paid for the use of tissue-recovery rooms.

Ground-level body wrangler? Now there’s an interesting job title…

And it’s not just anonymous Ukrainians who can get caught up in this.  Alistair Cooke – remember him? – was invaded by the body snatchers after his death and dismembered on behalf of a company that slipped funeral parlors up to $1k for access to body parts. (The owner of that company is now serving hard time for “conspiracy, theft and abuse of a corpse.”)

I guess before you bury grandmaw, and you haven’t told someone to take what they want, you might want to check to make sure that no-one’s stuffed your “human sock puppet” with wood and cloth to make it look like she’s still all there.

Hey, once I’m gone, I don’t want it, you can have it, it’s no good to me. But I still don’t want to be hacked apart by a new age chop shop. Ewwww to that.

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