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. […]This story is first in a series; full coverage is here.
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.
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