4 Investigates: Human body parts can be bought online, and in NM it's completely legal
October 07, 2018 10:17 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – How we treat the dead is a symbol of culture, faith and humanity.
However, all across the country there is an industry shrouded in mystery—and they’re profiting off the dead. Donating your body to science and research may be a noble gesture, but in some cases your body could be split up and sold to anyone with a credit card.
Farrah Fasold’s living nightmare began nine years ago. Her father, Harold Dillard, was dying of cancer. He had just one last wish: to donate his body to science and medical research.
Fasold told 4 Investigates that a hospice group recommended a now-shuttered Albuquerque company called BioCare, which promised to use body parts for research then cremate the remains and return them to the family.
“It was explained to me… his knee would be sent to a medical school so that physicians could practice different surgical techniques and surgical advancements,” Fasold said. “It was never explained to me that his body parts would be sold. I had no clue at the time that there was even a market for this.”
Months later, Fasold received what she believed were her father’s ashes. However, it wasn’t until six days later when she learned the truth.
It was a gruesome discovery: human body parts were found in 12 red tubs “dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument… such as a chainsaw,” according to court records.
Fasold was told her father’s arm was found with a hospital-type wristband.
“I try really hard not to live with regret, but in this situation, it’s hard not to have regret,” Fasold said. “All I could think about was the treatment of his body and having flashbacks of what happened to him and seeing red tubs every time I close my eyes.”
“Families are at their weakest moment. They’re grieving, they’re losing their loved ones and they’re being taken advantage of,” he added.
The man behind BioCare, Paul Mantano, was initially arrested for fraud. However, the charges were later dropped because, it turned out, he didn't break any laws.
The morbid market of selling human body parts in the United States is largely unregulated. Up until 2006, eBay allowed the sale of human skulls online.
In New Mexico, the only state law on the books that mentions the sale of human body parts prevents the selling of human organs for transplantations.
“The take-home lesson is: donor beware,” said Jason Robert, an ethics professor at Arizona State University.
Robert told 4 Investigates that efforts to create an ethical standard across the so-called "body broker" industry have been stonewalled.
“They’re sort of happy with the idea that this is a field that’s poorly regulated, where it’s quite easy to access human remains,” Robert said. “Death is a massive industry. No matter how much we want to stop it, we don’t stop dying. So there’s always going to be the availability of these body parts."
To prove how easy it is to purchase human body parts, the 4 Investigates team purchased a real human foot from an online company called Skulls Unlimited. The $325 purchase was delivered without any request for credentials or being questioned about the intentions of the purchase.
In a follow-up phone conversation with one of owners of the Oklahoma-based company, the individual – who refused to identify himself – could not definitively say where the body part originated.
His best guess: somewhere in India.
On its website, Skulls Unlimited says its bones are legally and ethically obtained. However, a disclaimer warns buyers to be aware of their local laws before purchasing.
While some medical schools and hospitals often use donated cadavers for teaching, their programs are highly regulated and monitored. However, that’s not the case for so-called private body brokers.
“I think a lot of folks would be maybe a little disturbed if they saw what may happen in the for-profit business,” said Glenn Rosenbaum, who has worked with French Funerals in Albuquerque for 20 years.
While Rosenbaum’s company does not work with body donations, he told 4 Investigates that he is concerned about the unchecked inner workings of the body broker industry.
“I think there should be oversight,” he said.
As for Fasold, she’s focused on turning her pain into purpose with hopes of inspiring change.
“After all this time, still no laws have been changed. Everything remains the same and this can still go on today,” she said.
Dillard’s real ashes were eventually delivered to his daughter, parts of which were scattered in the mountains outside Albuquerque.
Experts warn anyone considering body donation to do their homework, ask a lot of questions and don’t sign any sort of agreement until you fully understand what could be done with your loved one’s remains.
Updated: October 07, 2018 10:17 PM
Created: October 07, 2018 09:17 PM
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