Sunday, October 13, 2019

"In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended"


The case is one of dozens of death investigations across the country, including more than two dozen in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, that The Times found were complicated or upended when transplantable body parts were taken before a coroner’s autopsy was performed.

In multiple cases, coroners have had to guess at the cause of death. Wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuits have been thwarted by early tissue harvesting. A death after a fight with police remains unsettled. The procurement process caused changes to bodies that medical examiners mistook as injuries or abuse. In at least one case, a murder charge was dropped.


Organ procurement before an investigation has long been legal, provided the coroner agreed.


In a handful of states the laws go even further, giving the companies the power to force coroners to delay autopsies until they have harvested the body parts.


Those body parts fuel a booming industrial biotech market in which a half-teaspoon of ground-up human skin is priced at $434. That product is one of those used in cosmetic surgery


Morgue officials at times give the corporate employees key cards so they can enter at any hour. The companies rent rooms inside the morgues, including suites where surgical teams harvest donors’ tissues.

In a growing number of counties nationwide, the companies can log into government computer files on the newly deceased, allowing them to swiftly find potential candidates for procurement.