Biological Resource Center update: Business investigation raises questions about body donations

PHOENIX - The FBI investigation into Biological Resources Center has brought up a lot of questions about what it really means to donate your body to science.

The expectation when it comes to organ donation for both living recipients and the deceased is that a healthy organ will be transplanted into a living body.

When you donate your body to science, you should never have to worry that any part of you will end up in a living person. However, the expectation is still that you could benefit the living.

Inside Science Care Phoenix, a body donation business, you'll find labs that look like typical operating rooms, but instead of fake patients, body donors help mirror more realistic procedures for practicing doctors.

"For example if it's a knee surgery they will work with knee specimens and they will practice that technique so they can go back tomorrow to their real practice and benefit patients," said director of donor services Melinda Ellsworth

She says medical device companies also test products on body donors in the Science Care labs, such as hip and knee implants that help improve lives, as well as perfecting new surgical techniques like spinal fusion.

Students and surgeons also learn how to perform those techniques in their facility.

The business also sends cadavers and tissue samples to medical universities and training hospitals where they are used as practice models or sometimes studied by researchers in hopes of finding better treatments for disease.

What donors do not have control over is which part of your body is studied, although your medical history is taken into account.

Ellsworth says it depends on which projects are happening at the time of your death, which will also determine how much of your ashes will be returned to family. 

She says families can call to follow up and find out which projects their loved one contributed to.

"I've gotten calls from families saying, this box is really light, I'm concerned. I tell them, that's a wonderful thing, I can tell you your loved one went to seven different projects," Ellsworth said.

Body donors should never pay and it is illegal for body donor companies to sell human tissue or other body parts. The legal way these companies make money is charging a hefty fee from the doctors, medical facilities and medical companies who use their services,

Ellsworth suggests the best way to spot a reputable business is to check to see if they're accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks.

It's not required so she says that's a good indicator the company has set a higher standard for themselves.

Print this article Back to Top