TISSUE BANKS: Profiting From Human Remains
Although families who are considering donating the organs of a deceased loved one often "are led to believe they are giving the gift of life," they are not told that "skin goes to enlarge penises or smooth out wrinkles or that executives of not-for-profit tissue banks routinely earn six-figure salaries," the Austin American- Statesman reports. Businesses that profit from donated body parts make about $500 million annually and are projected to make up to $1 billion within three years. A single body can be worth up to $110,000 to $220,000 to a tissue bank. Tissue banks use skin to plump up fashion models' lips, bone for dental patients, tendons for athletes and corneas for the blind. The body parts trade "has sparked questions from donor families and medical ethicists about ties between companies that sell body parts and nonprofit organizations that solicit them." Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics professor, said, "People who donate have no idea tissue is being processed into products that per gram or per ounce are in the price range of diamonds." The two largest for-profit tissue banks will generate a total of $142.3 million in sales this year, while the fourth largest not-for- profit tissue banks will bring in about $261 million.
No Disclosure to Families
Michael Jeffries, CFO for Osteotech Inc., the leader in the bone business, defended his company, saying, "It's not an evil thing because the profit is put to good use." Industry leaders added that donations "would plummet if families knew their gifts generate profits." Nancy Holland, the top executive for the not-for-profit University of Florida Tissue Bank and vice president of the private firm Regeneration Technologies Inc., said, "We're already talking with someone who is in a state of grief, and we just thought it was too much information to impose on them at that time." But Sandra Shadwick, who donated her brother's organs two years ago, said, "I thought I was donating to a nonprofit. I didn't know I was lining someone's pocket. It makes me angry. It makes me appalled. If it's not illegal, it ought to be. It's certainly immoral." So far, the practice is legal. Companies skirt the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, which outlawed profits from the sale of tissue, by charging marked-up fees to handle and process the body parts (Katches/Heisel/Campbell, 4/16). Jeanne Mowe, executive director of the American Association of Tissue Banks, said, "The law has never been tested in court. Nobody has ever decided what is selling and what isn't" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 4/17).