photo: Richard Harris
"On Feb. 24, Ukrainian authorities made an alarming discovery: 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.
What the security service had disrupted was not the work of a serial killer but part of an international pipeline of ingredients for medical and dental products that are routinely implanted into people around the world.
The seized documents suggested that the remains of dead Ukrainians were destined for a factory in Germany belonging to the subsidiary of a U.S. medical products company, Florida-based RTI Biologics.
RTI is one of a growing industry of companies that make profits by turning mortal remains into everything from dental implants to bladder slings to wrinkle cures.
The industry has flourished even as its practices have roused concerns about how tissues are obtained and how well grieving families and transplant patients are informed about the realities and risks of the business...
...Mandi Eisenbeis stood over her dad. It was a Thursday in May 2011 when she said her private good-byes at a funeral parlor in Lodi, Calif. George "Randy" Eisenbeis had died young, felled at age 57 by a methamphetamine overdose.
As she looked at him lying in the coffin, she noticed his hands were oozing blood.
Eisenbeis didn't know what had happened until later, when she learned the funeral director had sent a scathing complaint to the California Transplant Donor Network, the nonprofit organ and tissue bank that had stripped out Randy Eisenbeis' usable parts.
"To say this was simply a 'hack job' would be a compliment," Lodi Funeral Home's Michael Collins wrote in a letter accompanied by a series of graphic photos of the torn-apart corpse. "I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that you left his head and his hands for viewing, and yes, that is his severed foot in the photo to the bottom left of the embalming table."
In March the family sued the California organ bank, accusing it of fraud, mutilation of a corpse, and infliction of emotional distress.
According to call logs made of the consent process, the bank told Mandi Eisenbeis at least four times during the recorded consent process that the body would be properly put back together. She and the family couldn't give informed consent, the lawsuit charges, because those promises were lies designed to manipulate them into giving their okay.
The California Transplant Donor Network is accredited by the industry gold standard -- the American Association of Tissue Banks. According to its policies, tissue banks are required to reassemble a body out of respect for donors, their families and the professionals who handle bodies on their way to burial or cremation.
The tissue bank declined requests to comment for this story. In court filings the tissue bank has denied wrongdoing. In an earlier public statement the organization suggested that Randy Eisenbeis' corpse had been in good condition when it sent it to the morgue for autopsy. "No matter how complex the reconstruction process may be, it is a standard to which we adhere consistently," it said. "Unfortunately, we cannot speak to what may transpire once a donor's body leaves our control."
The medical examiner's autopsy findings, however, reported that Randy Eisenbeis came to him naked and skinned, with his feet "separated from the ankles."..."
These excerpts are from a series by the ICIJ :
Human Corpses Are Prize In Global Drive For Profits
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is an independent global network of reporters who collaborate on cross-borders investigative stories. To see video, graphics and more stories in this series, go to www.icij.org/tissue. This story was co-reported by National Public Radio (USA).
This is one of those Who knew? moments that seem to be more and more frequent these days.