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Michael Eyerly
Michael Eyerly
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Demand for Body Parts Fuels Illicit Parts for Profit Schemes

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The story of what happened to Alistair Cooke’s body is illustrative of the huge black market demand for body parts.

Recently, a news article chronicled the fate that befell the body of the late Alistair Cooke. Mr. Cooke hosted the long running television series “Masterpiece Theatre” from 1971 to 1992. In the course of his 22 year stint as host, Mr. Cooke became synonymous with the show, introducing each episode with a blend of social and historical commentary.

After Mr. Cooke died at age 95, his body was disassembled and his body parts sold to tissue banks. The problem was nobody had given permission to remove or reallocate Mr. Cooke’s body parts. Susan Cooke Kittredge, Mr. Cooke’s daughter, says that neither she nor her late father agreed to donate Mr. Cooke’s remains. In fact, where Ms. Kittredge’s name might have appeared on the donation records, there is instead a bogus name and phone number for a family member purportedly agreeing to donate her father’s body parts for tissue transplantation. The then funeral director of New York Mortuary Service has already pleaded guilty for his involvement in selling Mr. Cooke’s body parts. For Susan Cooke Kittredge, the celebrity’s daughter, the deception destroyed her trust.

“It’s deeply disturbing,” she said. “It throws out any kind of faith I had in the system. It’s so broken. It’s horrible to me that this wasn’t caught.”

Sadly, this story of mishandling and misappropriation of anatomical remains is not an isolated occurrence. There is a huge market demand for body parts. For example, donated cadaver tissue is used in more than a million procedures a year in the United States. As such, there is no shortage of individuals who are financially motivated to meet this demand. Unfortunately, this combination of factors, along with little government or regulatory oversight, fosters a certain amount of fraudulent and deceitful practices to profit from body parts. So, if you are considering donating your body, do your homework. Conduct research and make sure that your body will used in the manner you intend. And, make sure you find out what will be done with your remains after that use is complete. For example, many willed body programs offer to return cremated remains to surviving family members after use of the body is complete. In fact, California law provides for such return, unless waived by the donor.

Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, LLP represents family members of loved ones who gifted their bodies to UCLA’s willed body program for scientific and research use by students and faculty. These families allege that between 1997 and 2004, donated bodies were not used and disposed of in the manner promised. It is alleged that bodies donated to UCLA were cut up and the parts sold for profit. The lawsuit was originally filed as a class action, but the court just recently denied class status. Therefore, any individuals who wish to pursue an individual action should contact an attorney.