In light of a multi-state investigation into cadavers being sold for medical research, experts are warning patients and families hoping to donate remains to carefully consider their options.
The FBI raided a suburban Chicago crematory and an affiliated company that arranges donations of human remains after search warrants were filed in Michigan, The Associated Press reports. The raids at Cremation Services, Inc. in Schiller Park, IL and the Biological Resource Center in Rosemont, IL could be connected to a multi-state investigation into companies collecting and distributing bodies donated for scientific research.
According to a statement from the Biological Resource Center of Illinois, search warrants were executed at the facility as part of “an ongoing investigation of two former business associates.”
The Biological Resource Center acts as a “bridge” between individuals who donate their body and the research community. Patients or families may choose to gift remains for altruistic and philosophical reasons, or to help save on funeral costs.
In 2013, federal agents raided International Biological in Detroit, Michigan. Television station WXYX reported that agents “removed body parts of 1,000 different people in December that were cut up; arms, legs and heads that were not embalmed, but kept on ice for the market.”
In 2014, FBI agents executed a search warrant at another center in Arizona. The CDC investigated reports of “potential occupational exposure” to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and Mycobacterium tuberculosis among workers who performed preparation and dissection procedures on anatomical materials.
Paul J. Dudek, executive vice president of the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, recommends that patients wishing to donate contact medical centers or universities directly.
“The vast majority of full-body donations are for medical schools; there are probably 140 university-based schools with programs around the country. The easiest thing to do is call the one closest to you and ask how it works,” he said. “There are other not-for-profit organizations that do a very good job. There is tremendous demand for human specimens.”
The AGA manages the willed body donor program for medical and educational institutions throughout the state. It is not affiliated with any of the investigated companies.
Dudek said he hopes people will not be discouraged from donating their organs or body to science, because “physicians are always trying to learn new techniques and new instruments.”
Dr. Ben Margolis, director of the Autopsy Center of Chicago, called the developments “disturbing” and recommends families contact the Anatomical Gift Association before donating. It is illegal to sell any organ or body in the U.S.
“There is also a larger issue of comfort with death discussions in general. If decisions are only made around the time of death, a stressful time, families have less time to explore organ or full-body donation,” he said. “Become comfortable with the process before you have to make decisions.”
Full-body or brain donations are vital to helping scientists learn about progressive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, he added.
Daniel McCarthy, founder of Elements, the cremation company in Illinois, recommends “every family do their own due diligence” before donating. It may be beneficial for families to speak with funeral directors, attorneys and religious leaders.
“It’s imperative that the family or whomever it is making the choice for the decedent contact the company themselves,” McCarthy said. “It’s imperative they ask the right questions: What happens? Why is it free? Who or where does the body go? Are there any caveats to how the body is used?”