Thursday, March 11, 2004

Donated cadavers . . . the UCLA saga.

The scandal at UCLA Medical School over the unlawful sale of body parts from willed cadavers raises numerous questions. The NY Times hits a few on Friday with these articles:

  • "In Science‚Äôs Name, Lucrative Trade in Body Parts," by John Broder:
    About 10,000 Americans will their bodies to science each year, choosing a path that, in the popular imagination at least, leads to the clinical dignity of the medical school or teaching hospital, where the dead help to unveil the wonders of human anatomy or the mysteries of disease.

    Few donors, it is safe to say, imagine the many other ways corpses give their all for science: mangled in automobile crash tests, blown to bits by land mines or cut up with power saws to be shipped in pieces around the country or even abroad. Few see themselves ending up in a row of trunks, limbless and headless, arrayed on gurneys in the ballroom of a resort hotel for a surgical training seminar.

    Nor do many people suspect that corpses are precious raw material in a little-known profit-making industry, and that they are worth far more cut up than whole.

    A scandal at the cadaver laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, has thrown back a heavy curtain that has kept this business largely hidden from public view.

    The university suspended its Willed Body Program this week, and university police arrested the program's director and a man the university accuses of trafficking in as many as 800 cadavers in a six-year body-parts-for-profit scheme.

    The accused middleman, Ernest V. Nelson, who has cut up and carted away hundreds of cadavers from the U.C.L.A. medical school since 1998, said the university had been fully aware of what he was doing. He transferred the human parts, for sizable fees, to as many as 100 research institutions and private companies, including major companies like Johnson & Johnson, his lawyer said.
  • "The Logistics of the Cadaver Supply Business," by Andy Newman: big business, large fees, but where's the informed consent?

  • Meanwhile, the news over at UCLA only gets worse:

  • The director of the university's willed-body program and one other employee were arrested over the weekend in connection with allegedly unlawful sales (Washington Post);

  • The director of the program apparently lied about his degrees in philosophy and music, filed for bankruptcy three times in six years, twice before being hired by UCLA (AP/San Jose Mercury News);

  • A class action suit on behalf of families of donors (CNN) will undoubtedly cost the university, and not just in green-backs, but also prestige, reputation, good-will with the community, and -- fairly or not -- the trust and faith of patients who will wonder whether there's something really rotten at this school, which suffered through a scandal involving the willed-body program ten years ago:
    This is not the first time UCLA's cadaver program has been under investigation.

    Ten years ago, it was accused of mixing medical waste and animal remains with the ashes of human donors -- then disposing of them in a garbage dump, according to the suit.

    In 1994, the school entered into a settlement agreement with the California Department of Health Services to restructure the program.
  • posted by Tom Mayo, 10:16 PM

    Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter