Man Admits to Sale of Body Parts Willed for Research at University of California-San Francisco
Ernest Nelson, an alleged middleman in the sale of body parts from cadavers willed to University of California-Los Angeles School of Medicine, on Sunday said that he visited the medical school two times per week over a six-year period to dismember a total of 800 corpses and sell the parts to large medical research companies "with full knowledge of UCLA officials," the Los Angeles Times reports. Authorities arrested Nelson on Sunday over allegations that he received stolen property. Louis Marlin, an attorney for UCLA, said that Nelson worked for Henry Reid, director of the willed body program at the medical school, without the knowledge of university officials. Marlin also called the 800 cadavers cited by Nelson an "exaggerated" number and said that the sale of body parts covered a four-year, rather than a six-year, period, the Times reports. According to Marlin, UCLA officials were first "alerted to a potential problem" when the California Department of Health Services told them that Nelson had sold body parts under the false pretense that the cadavers "had been tested for infectious diseases at UCLA," the Times reports. After Dr. J. Thomas Rosenthal, associate vice chancellor of the medical school, confronted Reid on the issue, Reid said that he had sold "a very small number" of body parts to Nelson and that he was "arranging for the body parts to be returned," which prompted UCLA to end the investigation, the Times reports. However, according to Marlin, UCLA "immediately began investigating" when an attorney for Nelson filed a claim against the university for $241,000, the value of the body parts he had in his warehouse after the university asked him to return any parts in his possession, the Times reports. Reid on Feb. 26 admitted to Marlin that he received payment from Nelson for the body parts, at which time Marlin said he contacted the police and placed Reid on administrative leave, Marlin said. According to Marlin, Reid also admitted that he paid Nelson $21,000 to secure his silence after Nelson threatened to "blow the whistle on the scheme," the Times reports.
Nelson said that his sale of the body parts was "simply aimed at enriching science," adding, "I provide specimens for research. I'm giving doctors a forum to practice and improve." However, Marlin said, "The whole basis of this is you have one crook trying to steal more from another crook," adding, "If there's one body gone, it's one too many, and it's a crime" (Ornstein/Marosi, Los Angeles Times, 3/8). According to the Times, the issue has prompted some individuals to reconsider "their decision to will their own bodies" to UCLA. The UCLA willed body program each year receives about 175 cadavers, which are used to conduct research and in the instruction of first-year medical students (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 3/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.