Cashing in on cadavers – Nonprofits profit from organ harvest

Organ donations generate hundreds of millions of dollars for U.S. companies in spite of laws that prohibit making a profit from the sale of body parts, the Orange County Register reports. 

Although grieving families are told they are giving to a nonprofit, donated organs fuel an industry that is expected to have $1 billion in revenues by 2003, the newspaper says.

Nonprofit tissue banks, which screen donors and mine body parts, sell the tissue to companies that make medical products.  Profits are shared between the tissue banks and the businesses.

While survivors often are told about the use of vital organs, the use of other tissues is rarely mentioned, the Register days.

For example, cadaver skin is used for lip implants, penis enlargements and wrinkle treatments. 

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which banned profits from tissue sales, said companies and tissue banks may charge reasonable fees for services. The law does not define reasonable fees. 

A single body can be harvested for up to $34,000 in tissue material.  Tissue such as skin, tendons, heart valves, veins and corneas can be sold for up to $110,000. 

"People who donate have no idea tissue is being processed into products that per gram are in the price range of diamonds," Arthur Caplan, bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Register. 

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