Feb
04
2008

The party of the first part agrees that the party of the second part...

Body Parts
Body PartsCourtesy Claudecf
The trade in human tissue is huge around the world. A cadaver dissected for parts can not only improve the life of someone stricken with say a bad knee or a bum ticker, but can also bring in tens of thousands of dollars of revenue to businesses involved in the tissue trade. Unfortunately, the demand seems to far outweigh the supply. And when supplies are low, black markets thrive.

For example, just last week a kidney theft ring was broken up in India, and there’s the whole issue of illegal tissue harvesting in China. But now it looks like our own country has a finger in it, too.

Civil lawsuits are running amok against some US companies that processed body tissues they purchased from a man accused of secretly and illegally chopping up human cadavers for resale of the body parts.

Michael Mastromarino, owner of Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, New Jersey, is charged with stealing bodies, opening graves, unlawful dissection, forgery, and enterprise corruption, and faces up to 54 years in prison. The company, which was closed down by the FDA in early 2006, was also cited for improperly screening tissue for communicable diseases. And now in an effort to reduce his jail time, Mastromarino appears to have had a change of heart and is ready to plead guilty. The deal would include cooperating with investigators, and perhaps turning against the companies he serviced.

"Let's just say that he is going to assist them and give any information he has about the processors and their role," said his attorney, Mario Gallucci.

The tissue processors who purchased the body parts from BTS include Regeneration Technologies Inc., LifeCell Corp. and Tutogen Medical Inc., and two nonprofits, the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas, and Lost Mountain Tissue Bank.

Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon, is alleged to have gone door to door to funeral homes looking to acquire human tissue. He is thought to have supplied about 10,000 people with spare parts through the tissue processing firms.

The processors "loved his tissue and encouraged him to get more and more", Gallucci said.

The companies are already facing hundreds of civil lawsuits from relatives of deceased family members whose bodies were involved in this grisly endeavor.

Medtronic, the Minnesota-based corporation, is also being sued because it received some body parts from Regeneration. But officials at the medical giant (which had no direct contact with Mastromarino) claim the suits are without merit, and don’t believe the plaintiffs have a leg to stand on.

Mastromarino’s testimony could mean lots more trouble for his former clients if he implicates them in the crimes.

"Mastromarino can certainly tell us things that may lead us in directions we haven't been able to go before," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the companies insist Mastromarino was a shady operator and a hack who deceived everyone. They all claim they had no idea the material they purchased from him was illegally procured.

South Carolina attorney Kevin Dean of the firm of Motley Rice is handling hundreds of lawsuits against the processors and thinks Mastromarino’s testimony could prove useful for his cases.

"It seems to suggest that everything that the plaintiffs have said all along is completely accurate. That the tissue processors are more involved than they want everyone to believe," he said.

If Mastromarino really has something to get off his chest about the processors’ involvement, and it proves true, the financial exposure could end up costing the companies an arm and a leg.

LINKS

Livescience story
Washington Post story
New York magazine article

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Tissue Banker's picture
Tissue Banker says:

There is no way Mastromarino would have been able to obtain the cooperation of all the people, in the various companies he provided tissue to, that he would have needed to pull off what he did. The only way he was able to get away with what he did was by keeping the knowledge of his crimes to as few people as possible. If as many people were involved, as he's alluding to, someone would have blown the whistle long ago. He's just trying to come up with anything that might minimize his prison term.

posted on Tue, 02/05/2008 - 7:32am
Vlad's picture
Vlad says:

Great article about a topic that is necessary to inform the public.The operative word differentiating the Mastromarino's of the world from the rest is Consent. Consent is the legal basis for accepting donation. Without it we cannot and will not proceed with a donation. The good people trying to help families and medical science at the same time through donation are few and far in between. This story angered me because as with any profession, the honest, truly passionate people committed to helping others can get lumped in with the truly criminal and disreputable . As the Director of a non-transplant anatomical program I can tell you that the questions we field are fueled by stories such as this and with good reason. We seek to inform persons who are interested in donation and answer their questions quickly and honestly. The choice to donate or not is made by that individual and their family. Dr. Mastromarino committed several crimes but none greater than the betrayal of trust of the public and the sanctity of the donor and their family.

http://lifequestanatomical.com/bodydonation.php

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posted on Sat, 11/08/2008 - 2:12pm

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