Finding body parts packed in coolers in a ?grimy minibus? seems like something you might find in a TV show or movie. It goes right alongside folklore involving waking up in an ice-filled bathtub with your kidneys missing?not something that someone realistically worries about on a regular basis. It turns out though that we have more of a right to be worried about the illegal sale of our body parts than we thought?and it's coming down on the medtech industry in a big way.
Human tissue from corpses is used in a whole variety of medical procedures, such as sports medicine procedures, hernia repair, spinal fusion, breast reconstruction, and dental surgeries. As a result, there are a whole slew of companies that are dedicated to taking this tissue and turning it into products (referred to as allografts) that can be implanted in patients worldwide. This article estimates that approximately two million products derived from human tissue are sold in the US each year. In theory, all of this tissue can only be obtained if the deceased's family gives permission for it to be harvested.
You can probably see where this is going. Through an international investigative journalism project, it recently came up that in a few cases, human tissue was NOT being harvested legally, involving falsified documents and a lack of consent from the donor's family. Although the investigation spanned multiple countries, in each case, the illegal tissue was on its way to major tissue processor RTI Biologics. Did RTI Biologics know that the tissue was obtained illegally? That's not clear, but the company will nonetheless have to stand trial in October to prove its innocence.
Because of the grisly and shocking nature of the story, it's been picked up by several news agencies and is spreading worldwide. Because it's relatively new though, its overall impact is difficult to judge just now. It's quite likely that RTI Biologics will face some negative fallout from the story, regardless of the outcome of the trial. It's also possible that demand for allografts in general may decrease to some extent if patients are scared off by the story. Regulation might be brought in requiring stricter controls on tracking human tissue and donor consent.
As stated by Dr. Martin Zizi, a professor of neurophysiology in Brussels, ?We are more careful with fruit and vegetables than with body parts."