The FBI is investigating whether bodies from Portland-area funeral homes have been improperly obtained and used for medical research.
Documents obtained by WW show a federal grand jury in May subpoenaed records from Legacy Health, a major Oregon health care provider. Whistleblowers have alleged that Legacy Research Institute's body-donation program may have accepted cadavers for research from a local funeral home without keeping proper medical records, according to interviews and records obtained by WW.
The FBI is also investigating questions about whether Legacy or the company it uses to secure cadavers for medical research, Portland-based Crown Memorial Centers, obtained the bodies legally or if it informed families that their loved ones' remains had been donated to science.
Legacy officials acknowledge they have received a subpoena for documents but say they believe the health-care provider is not the target of the investigation.
A May 8 federal subpoena obtained by WW shows the FBI demanded that Legacy hand over "complete donor files to include death certificates, serology reports, medical and social histories, procurement information for harvested tissues, organs, or body parts, and body or body part use and distribution information."
Legacy Research Institute, located in the Lloyd District, uses cadavers to train doctors for surgery.
"We also use cadavers to research techniques and tools that are used to save lives in cases of severe injury," Legacy Health says in a frequently-asked questions page on its website. "Countless people live better lives because of the work we do and through the donations to the program."
The subpoena also required Legacy to produce all correspondence with Crown Memorial Centers, which operates funeral homes in Portland and Tualatin, and contact information for the families of all body donors.
According to sources, the federal investigation began after Legacy employees raised questions about whether the body donation program was conducting proper screenings on the cadavers for blood-borne diseases including HIV.
They say employees also questioned whether next-of-kin had given consent for the bodies to be used.
The FBI has been investigating body- and tissue-donation centers in Arizona and Michigan.
A Legacy spokesman tells WW the health-care provider can't comment on the details of the case. But he says Legacy does not expect the FBI to file charges against it.
"It's not uncommon for us to get contacted by state and federal regulatory agencies," says Legacy spokesman Brian Terrett. "What I can tell you is that there's no federal or state law enforcement agency that is investigating Legacy. We're fully cooperating, and we haven't been led to believe we're the subject of this investigation."
Tjaden says his Cascade is only a facilitator for Legacy's body donation program. He said his company has also received a subpoena but doesn’t expect the FBI to charge his company.
"As far as I know, everything is just fine," Tjaden says of his meeting with an FBI agent. "He didn't say anything to me like, 'Stop doing this.'”