Last Halloween it was New York City funeral homes partaking in clandestine selling of cadaver parts, see Modern Day Body Snatchers – now the former director of the cadaver donor program at the University of California, Los Angeles, along with his modern-day Igor, have been charged with conspiracy and grand theft. Both have been accused of illegally trading body parts that had been donated to the University for Medical Research.
The criminal charges came three years after the authorities first arrested the men and then freed them as the campus police investigated what they called complicated dealings involving hundreds of body parts. Henry Reid, who directed the University’s program from 1997 to 2004, and Ernest Nelson, who operated a business transporting body parts, were arrested Wednesday.
The criminal complaint by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office alleges that from May 1999 to February 2004, the two conspired to defraud U.C.L.A. of donor bodies for personal financial gain. Mr. Reid, the complaint asserts, sold human body parts to Mr. Nelson, for $43,000. Mr. Nelson, who operated the Empire Anatomical Company, then made over $1 million by selling the remains to more than 20 private medical, pharmaceutical and hospital research companies.
The investigation led U.C.L.A. to temporarily suspend its willed body program. As more stories of black market dealings come to light, the real danger is the loss of willing donors of organs and bodies. Approximately 50 to 75 people can benefit from one person’s organs. However, thousands of people die each year due to the critical shortage of transplantable organs and tissues. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 14 people die each day because donor organs are unavailable.
Organ transplantation is no longer considered experimental. It is now a viable treatment option for many patients experiencing end-stage organ failure. In 1984, the United States Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act classifying human organs as a national resource and not subject to compensation or sale. However, a world-wide trade in body parts and organs has developed, along with “medical tourism,” and a lucrative domestic black market.