In the US alone, the biggest market and the biggest supplier, an estimated two million products derived from human tissue are sold each year, a figure that has doubled over the past decade.That's one reason some people argue that you shouldn't sign your organ donor card; your body parts are sufficiently valuable that if you die in a hospital, representatives may negotiate with your loved ones to reduce or eliminate your hospital bill in exchange for harvesting your tissue; if your consent is pre-signed, they may not make such offers. I don't know whether such arguments are valid; it may be country-dependent.
It is an industry that promotes treatments and products that literally allow the blind to see (through cornea transplants) and the lame to walk (by recycling tendons and ligaments for use in knee repairs). It's also an industry fuelled by powerful appetites for bottom-line profits and fresh human bodies...
In contrast to tightly monitored systems for tracking intact organs such as hearts and lungs, authorities in the US and many other countries have no way to accurately trace where recycled skin and other tissues come from and where they go...
The Slovaks export cadaver parts to the Germans; the Germans export finished products to South Korea and the US; the South Koreans to Mexico; the US to more than 30 countries. Distributors of manufactured products can be found in the European Union, China, Canada, Thailand, India, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Some are subsidiaries of multinational medical corporations.
The international nature of the industry, critics claim, makes it easy to move products from place to place without much scrutiny.
“If I buy something from Rwanda, then put a Belgian label on it, I can import it into the US. When you enter into the official system, everyone is so trusting,” said Dr Martin Zizi, professor of neurophysiology at the Free University of Brussels. Once a product is in the European Union, it can be shipped to the US with few questions asked.
“They assume you've done the quality check," Zizi said. "We are more careful with fruit and vegetables than with body parts.”..
Because of the ban on selling the tissue itself, the US companies that first commercialised the trade adopted the same methods as the blood collection business.
The for-profit companies set up non-profit offshoots to collect the tissue — in much the same way the Red Cross collects blood that is later turned into products by commercial entities.
Nobody charges for the tissue itself, which under normal circumstances is freely donated by the dead (via donor registries) or by their families.
Rather, tissue banks and other organisations involved in the process receive ill-defined “reasonable payments” to compensate them for obtaining and handling the tissue.
Other articles (here, here) in the series detail the morbid and often unethical methodology used in tissue procurement:
“On the way to the cemetery, when we were in the hearse, one of his feet — we noticed that one of the shoes slipped off his foot, which seemed to be hanging loose,” his mother, Lubov Frolova, told ICIJ.“When my daughter-in-law touched it, she said that his foot was empty.”Later, the police showed her a list of what had been taken from her son’s body.“Two ribs, two Achilles heels, two elbows, two eardrums, two teeth, and so on. I couldn’t read it till the end, as I felt sick. I couldn’t read it,” she said...“ I was in shock,” Rahulina said. She never signed the papers, she said, and it was clear to her that someone had forged her approval.