Oregon Lawmakers Will Consider Legislation that Would Make it Easier to Donate Bodies

A Portland company is among the largest players in an industry that has been under FBI scrutiny.

(Devon Devereaux)

Among the many pieces of legislation lawmakers will consider in the session that began today is Senate Bill 144, which would expand Oregon's organ donation system to facilitate the donation of whole bodies.

Two years ago, Reuters looked into the business of whole-body donations, a growing business in which families provide cadavers to companies for free (saving families funeral expenses) and the companies then sell body parts for medical training and research.

Reuters found the industry has attracted the attention of federal law enforcement agencies, in part because of concerns that some companies may be selling diseased tissue.

In November 2017, the FBI raided the Northeast Portland headquarters of MedCure, a national company that solicits donations of newly dead bodies and then supplies body parts for medical research and training.

No charges have been filed in that case, and the FBI declined to comment to WW on the status of its investigation, which is reportedly part of a larger look at dubious practices by the industry.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 144 would allow MedCure to expand its business by enabling Oregonians to elect on their driver's licenses to make "whole-body" donations when they die. MedCure is currently the only nationally accredited body-donation organization based in the state, although a competitor, Science Care, also operates here.

MedCure's attorney, Jeffrey Edelson, responded to WW's questions with the following statement:

"MedCure is a national leader in providing services for whole body donors and medical professionals engaging in anatomical study for medical education and advancement of science," Edelson said.

"MedCure is accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks and licensed by the Oregon Health Authority. SB 144 merely establishes standards that MedCure already meets. As for the FBI, MedCure has fully cooperated, and looks forward to resolving whatever remaining questions the government may have about our business. Out of respect for the integrity of the process, we do not believe that further comment is appropriate at this time."

Former House Speaker Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone) is lobbying on behalf of MedCure on SB 144. In an email, Hunt acknowledged there are some bad actors in the body donation field but said MedCure is not one of them.

"Media reports have covered the unethical and improper behaviors exhibited by unregulated and unscrupulous individuals in the industry," Hunt said. "These players may justly be called "body brokers," as they operate without regard for the respect owed to body donors and their families, or the safety and reputations of the medical and scientific research communities they are supposed to serve."

MedCure, Hunt notes is one of only seven companies accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks and and is also licensed by Oregon Health Authority.

"The body donation industry as a whole is largely unregulated, but we believe this must change in order to eliminate body brokers and the abuses they perpetrate," Hunt said. "In keeping with this philosophy, we are working to bring greater regulation and oversight to the industry as a whole, beginning with [SB 144].

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Health Care Committee Jan. 30.

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