Bodies of Evidence
October 15, 2019 3:19 PM   Subscribe

When 69-year-old Marietta Jinde died in September 2016, police had already been called to her home several times because of reports of possible abuse. A detective described conditions at the woman’s home in Gardena as “horrendous.” She was so emaciated and frail that the hospital asked Los Angeles County adult protective services officials to look into her death. […] With permission from county officials and saying they did not know of the abuse allegations, employees from OneLegacy, a Southern California human tissue procurement company, had gained access to the body, taking parts that could have provided crucial evidence. [CW: descriptions of autopsies]
The case is one of dozens of death investigations across the country, including more than two dozen in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, that The Times found were complicated or upended when transplantable body parts were taken before a coroner’s autopsy was performed. […]

Organ procurement before an investigation has long been legal, provided the coroner agreed. The motivation was to increase the number of hearts, kidneys and other vital organs needed to extend the lives of Americans waiting for transplants. To raise those numbers, California and other states over the last decade passed laws requiring coroners and medical examiners to “cooperate” with the companies to “maximize” the number of organs and tissues taken for transplant. Procurement companies’ lobbyists helped to write the legislation and push it into law.

In a handful of states the laws go even further, giving the companies the power to force coroners to delay autopsies until they have harvested the body parts.

Although the companies have emphasized organ transplants, in far more cases nationwide they harvested skin, bone, fat, ligaments and other tissues that are generally not used for life-threatening conditions. Those body parts fuel a booming industrial biotech market in which a half-teaspoon of ground-up human skin is priced at $434. That product is one of those used in cosmetic surgery to plump lips and posteriors, fill cellulite dimples and enhance penises. A single body can supply raw materials for products that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This story is first in a series; full coverage is here.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (46 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read this a couple of days ago and was horrified. I am signed up to be a donor; two people I know have received heart transplants. Just last week, I wrote a story about a local kid who received a heart three years ago from a Marine who killed himself. The donor/recipient stories are so compelling. But to hear that profit-making companies have moved into morgues to scoop up part to be ground down into material for cosmetic reasons, calling the kin of freshly dead people, interfering in autopsies, etc, to make money, is making me ill, to the point of reconsidering whether I should be a donor. I don't know if in my state I can limit what is donated but I am not interested in helping one of these companies get rich for frivolous cosmetic reasons.
posted by etaoin at 3:28 PM on October 15, 2019 [24 favorites]


The word "ghoul" seems appropriate here.
posted by Slothrup at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2019 [43 favorites]


If you're taking something that you can make a profit off without paying for it & without consent of the family that's not a "donation", it's just stealing. It seems like a loophole that could be closed.
posted by bleep at 3:31 PM on October 15, 2019 [51 favorites]


Yeah, I've got my DL license checked, but given my age it may be time to consider un-checking it. I doubt my organs will be much in demand for actual transplants, and I don't care to be literally fed into the grinder of capitalism.
posted by tavella at 3:33 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


Also this is yet another instance of unaccountable private companies literally cannibalizing whats supposed to be the public good.
posted by bleep at 3:39 PM on October 15, 2019 [35 favorites]


> cannibalizing whats supposed to be the public good.

cannibalizing whats supposed to be the public good.
posted by gen at 3:46 PM on October 15, 2019 [32 favorites]


Reminds me of the Grave Robbers from Victorian Era that robbed graves and fresh cadavers for the Medical Schools. Capitalism at its finest.
posted by smudgedlens at 3:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Americans are accusing China of 'organ harvesting' (which may be happening) when in fact it is happening in the US right now, legally.
posted by gen at 4:00 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Um, while I highly dislike what is described here, there's a vast moral canyon between that and killing prisoners for organs, which is what China has been accused of (with at least some evidence, is my understanding.)
posted by tavella at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2019 [17 favorites]


> vast moral canyon

Agreed.
posted by gen at 4:11 PM on October 15, 2019


Then that seemed some pointless both-sideism there.
posted by tavella at 4:14 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


A single body can supply raw materials for products that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Oh, capitalism, you rascal! Is there nothing you can't turn into a soul-destroying mess?
posted by Grangousier at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Yeah, so I just updated my donor profile to prohibit my body from being used for any for-profit use...
posted by Ruki at 4:17 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Being used as a penis enhancer is the literal view of Hell I never realized I had until just now.
posted by Ruki at 4:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


Perhaps please consider not unchecking your organ donor registration despite this story, and instead updating your profile to prohibit for-profit use if possible. People like me are alive due to the generosity of organ donors, and that people may opt out of donating organs after they have already opted in? That is really a heartbreaking response to hear to this tragic story. There's a big organ shortage in the United States already. This is horrifying but the answer isn't to relegate people like me to a slow death (sorry to be graphic and sensational, but this is my reality). The answer here is regulation.
posted by k8lin at 4:27 PM on October 15, 2019 [50 favorites]


Yeah, so I just updated my donor profile to prohibit my body from being used for any for-profit use...

I wonder how well that actually works, though? It would be pretty easy to set up a 'non-profit' front organization that exists to sell the donations to the for-profit company for cheap, then use the money to pay a generous salary to the head of the non-profit, with just enough spent on "promoting organ donation" to keep them out of legal trouble (and of course providing more profitable material.) As I recall, at least one of the 'donate hair to kids with cancer' charities worked that way.

I did update my profile as well, I'm just not sure it will help.
posted by tavella at 4:31 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


What k8lin said, obviously.

FYI, while I did update my profile to say I did not authorize my remains to be used for any for-profit means, such as components of cosmetic procedures, I also listed bone and skin specifically, as there was wording that the only legal specifications that could be honored had to list body parts. I left the for-profit sentence in because I'm hoping someone sees the update, that this data is being captured somewhere and will be noticed.
posted by Ruki at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2019


That was Locks of Love, iirc. They used to set up a "salon" at my highschool to con my classmates out of their hair.

We can update our donor profiles? ...... we even HAVE donor profiles? Never heard about this before.

How on Earth this got to be legal is beyond me.
posted by captain afab at 4:41 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I don't know about all states, but California's is here. I ended up just unchecking 'research', which sounded like a loophole a good capitalist could drive a truck through, and also specifically removing bones and skin, which seem to be the most profit-driven. I also checked the non-profit only, but as I said above I have my doubts that would do any good.
posted by tavella at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


My daughter wears wigs because of a genetic condition. I have a raging hate-on for Locks of Love.

I signed up for organ donation through the DMV. I found the website for updating my donor profile on my state’s DMV page.
posted by Ruki at 5:51 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've always said that I didn't care what happened after I was gone, but as it turns out, I'd rather not be injected into some techbro's penis.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:51 PM on October 15, 2019 [32 favorites]


Is there any evidence that these ghouls are even checking these databases though and/or respecting people's wishes? They certainly don't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
posted by bleep at 6:43 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also is it too selfish to think that I would like them to be able to figure out if and how I got murdered before chopping me up for parts? Is that more important than keeping someone else alive? I don't really know.
posted by bleep at 6:52 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I had a really lovely deep dive through organ donation and trafficking papers about two years ago and the ethics are so complicated and fascinating. It's not a simple case of bad capitalism/good organs. You have many variable cultural traditions that have to be navigated carefully, socio-economic and ethnic biases held across different regions that mean organs get donated-sold and received-bought unequally, and there's a huge question about who should be prioritised for receiving organs in the first place, even. By age, by health, by time of diagnosis, by likelihood of length of life (thus complicated by biases against obesity and mental illness for quality of life), by the size of their family....

Honestly, after reading through all the thorny dilemmas, the sheer simplicity of black market trafficking where you go in and pay for a transaction and everyone in the room knows they are doing A Horrible Terrible Thing, is frankly a relief.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Shouldn’t the next-of-kin (or whoever is in the deceased’s will) get any monetary benefit stemming from the use of the body? I get that people are willing to pay for use of it, but how does some third party have any claim to the profit from it?
posted by mantecol at 7:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


That's my concern; I don't give a shit what happens to my corpse, but seeing as I don't have any substantial material assets to leave behind, I'd like to try to make sure that any profits from its dispersal go to my next of kin instead of some random ghoul.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:44 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Just eliminate the profit motive by only allowing licensed nonprofits to do this. All the black market parts will already have a handy unique barcode for traceability.
posted by benzenedream at 11:06 PM on October 15, 2019


Licensed nonprofits can pay an awful lot of cash salary money, and otherwise have a de facto profit motive. Dunno what to do about that, but governance and expense ratio threshold standard might help.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:36 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is one of those awful, uncomfortable reminders that we are actually living in the future and these ghouls aren't just fictional.
posted by Foaf at 1:36 AM on October 16, 2019


I have donated my body to a medical school, as did both of my parents. I don't think they will sell off parts of it, but I don't really know. If I learn that they do that, I'll be disappointed, but if that happens, I'll be beyond caring.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:02 AM on October 16, 2019


Also is it too selfish to think that I would like them to be able to figure out if and how I got murdered before chopping me up for parts? Is that more important than keeping someone else alive? I don't really know.

To the extent the parts taken to support another's life, I think we can agree that if the parts in question are plainly irrelevant to determining the cause of death (and most deaths have a fairly obvious cause), it would be pretty selfish to prevent those parts from being donated while they are still viable. The gray area, at least for those who don't have other objections to organ harvesting, begins where there is a substantial trade-off between solving a murder and saving a life.

On the one hand, it's kinda spiteful to risk causing someone's death so that the legally prescribed revenge for your own death can be taken. On the other, not catching a murderer risks creating more victims. I certainly don't claim to have any answers.

However, none of this is particularly relevant to putting an end to the shocking abuse that sparked this conversation. We can shut down sickening tactics without getting anywhere near the gray area in which we might find disagreement about how far is too far.
posted by wierdo at 6:11 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is there any evidence that these ghouls are even checking these databases though and/or respecting people's wishes?

I wondered that as well -- is there any actual legal requirement that they respect this kind of official codicil, i.e. they could actually get charged with something or at least sued, or is it the equivalent of a polite request and they can do whatever they want once you have checked organ donor? I suppose it may vary from state to state.
posted by tavella at 8:57 AM on October 16, 2019


Wow this is straight out of Chiba City in Neuromancer. That’s one part of the story I really didn’t expect to come true

Also I had no idea that human tissues was used in face injections. I thought it was all animal or engineered, not from ... people. Wow.

I’m .... I’m gonna have to read this and all free comments later when im not eating. It takes a lot to really freak me out these days and this has me freaked.
posted by affectionateborg at 9:08 AM on October 16, 2019


However, none of this is particularly relevant to putting an end to the shocking abuse that sparked this conversation.

I don't want any murderers to get off free or profit from their crimes. I don't want these criminal companies profiting at the expense of the public good. Time to change the laws--corporations need to bear responsibility to society and have very limited rights.
I'm headed to the DMV today. I've always been a donor. If I can't be sure (for certain balues of sure) it's not a profit donation, I'm off the list. Maybe I can think about some other type of donation. Anybody want a slightly used kidney?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2019


The California page at least lets you specify that skin grafts be for life-saving or reconstruction only and that only non-profit orgs can do it. I guess the best thing would be to actually specify in your will what you want to happen- personally I want to go to a body farm and/or somehow go back into the earth.

However, none of this is particularly relevant to putting an end to the shocking abuse that sparked this conversation.
I think thinking about the overall ethics of impinging a murder investigation vs keeping someone else alive is important because the ones who are doing this now are going to argue that they have the moral right of way. And it's important to be clear about what exactly needs to stop or else we get into more unintended consequences.
posted by bleep at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2019


I don't think your will would do any good, it doesn't get read immediately. You'd have to trust in the registry specifications, which is why I'd like to know if there's any legal force to them.
posted by tavella at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2019


Anybody want a slightly used kidney?
Yes. I'm good (for now), but there are currently 93,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the US and 13 people die every day waiting for a kidney. Talk to your doctor about becoming an altruistic kidney donor.
posted by k8lin at 10:57 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Although the companies have emphasized organ transplants, in far more cases nationwide they harvested skin, bone, fat, ligaments and other tissues that are generally not used for life-threatening conditions.

The ACL in my right knee is actually a tendon from a tissue donor. I get that me being able to walk, run, and bike is not a life or death situation but I do bristle a little bit at the implication that if it's not saving someone from immediate death that those donations aren't important.

Obviously capitalism is the worst and this is grim and awful and I too considered removing that organ donor checkmark after reading it. But I also wanted to remind people that it's not life-saving organs or cosmetic implants with no in-between; there are a wide range of medical and quality of life uses for other kinds of donor tissue.
posted by misskaz at 11:04 AM on October 16, 2019 [9 favorites]


i was going to make a joking comment about being able to spare a few teaspoons of my skin for that kind of cash. but then i thought about it and realized that there are some people for whom that wouldn't even be a choice, and that it was sell their skin/eyes/kidney/etc or not be able to feed their family/themselves. and so it's probably good i can't just go up to a legal place and give them some part of me in exchange for money, because capitalism would devour me piece by piece, happily.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:30 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


[Slight edit to the above the fold section to avoid and warn of disturbing content, by request of OP.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:47 AM on October 16, 2019


So I swear this is relevant, I just have to start with the backstory: the book and movie Cloud Atlas is actually six different stories, set in six different time periods, which are ostensibly "connected" by one character who's reincarnating into each time period and each story. Cannibalism is a theme in a couple of the stories, with exploitation of one sort of another taking the thrust in the more "civilized" timelines.

One story is set in a dystopian future version of Seoul, where corporations have taken over as the central form of government. The main character is a cloned woman, Soonmi; clones are kept as slave labor in the various retail outlets, and this one works in a fast food restaurant. All slave clones are fed this protein goop they call "Soap". The slavery is presented as a form of indentured servitude; after six years, each clone is "retired", and the clones are given a big retirement party and are told they'll be brought to a retirement colony in Hawaii or something.

Soonmi gets rescued by a clones-rights group after just a couple years, where they deprogram her and then show her the truth - that the clones are actually killed and then melted down, and turned into "Soap". "...They feed us to ourselves," a horrified Soonmi gasps.

....I thought of that moment when I read this article.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just updated my profile to “highest bidder.”
/s
posted by spitbull at 3:33 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


....I thought of that moment when I read this article.

And it struck me "Who'd have thought that Soylent Green would come true as cosmetics?"

It reminds me of the outcry over bodysnatching (which was only a misdemeanour, a relatively minor offence, tolerated by the authorities because of the need for cadavers for dissection - double-checking on Wikipedia tells me that bodysnatchers were careful not to remove jewellery interred with the deceased, as that would be a felony, punishable by death or transportation - it was possible to steal a necklace, but not a person).
posted by Grangousier at 3:57 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


bodysnatchers were careful not to remove jewellery interred with the deceased

You mean they took the cadavers, but left any jewelry in the casket?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:35 PM on October 16, 2019


Sorry - just something I stumbled across on Wikipedia - the precise sentence is "They were often careful not to steal anything such as jewellery or clothes as this would cause them to be liable to a felony charge."

I'm not only basing my opinion on a Wikipedia page, of course, what do you take me for? I also saw a TV documentary about it once. Which also points out that the first person to be cremated in the UK was Jesus Christ.
posted by Grangousier at 1:59 AM on October 17, 2019


Oh, god, that's a derail, and I hate it when people do that, sorry. Anyway, my point was that there's been this sort of a situation before, where human remains were treated as owner-free resources, provoking a public outcry.
posted by Grangousier at 2:05 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


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