The June 30 Metro story that described a foul-up in the donation of tissue -- a family aghast at the harvesting of a son's entire brain despite its wish that only a slice be donated -- summarized the state of affairs with tissue donation in the United States.

Although the tissue bank entrusted was a nonprofit, this does not preclude huge profits. It is not uncommon for recipients of human tissue, nonprofit or not, to reap millions: The largest nonprofit tissue bank in the United States, for instance, earns more than $150 million annually.

Human tissue has become a billion-dollar industry. One cadaver, supplying tissue for biomedical companies, pharmaceutical firms and medical researchers, can bring in thousands of dollars, with brains, for instance, going for $500 and spines for $1,500. Tissue brokers skirt a federal law banning profits from the sale of tissue by inflating what they are allowed to charge for "reasonable" processing fees, because "reasonable" has never been defined.

Exorbitant earnings and the drive for profit are not revealed to donors, without whose altruism this industry could not thrive.

What's more, non-transplant tissue banks, which procure tissue for researchers and not for transplants or surgical products, aren't subject to federal rules or, in Maryland, to state health regulations.

It's time for lawmakers to halt this disgrace.



Funeral Consumers Alliance

of Maryland & Environs