FBI raids headquarters of major 'body broker'

The FBI executed a search of Medcure, Inc., a major player in the human body parts business.  The warrant was sealed, so the specific violations of the law the feds are looking for is unknown.  But as Reuters reports, there are potential abuses of the law by so-called "body brokers" that are rarely investigated at the state level, where most companies are regulated.

MedCure is among the largest brokers of cadavers and body parts in the United States. From 2011 through 2015, documents obtained under public-record laws show, the company received more than 11,000 donated bodies and distributed more than 51,000 body parts to medical industry customers nationally. In a current brochure, the company says that 80,000 additional people have pledged to donate their bodies to MedCure when they die.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele confirmed the day-long search of the 25,000-square-foot facility, but declined to comment further because the matter is under seal. A person familiar with the matter said that FBI agents took records from MedCure but did not remove human remains.

The FBI executed a search of Medcure, Inc., a major player in the human body parts business.  The warrant was sealed, so the specific violations of the law the feds are looking for is unknown.  But as Reuters reports, there are potential abuses of the law by so-called "body brokers" that are rarely investigated at the state level, where most companies are regulated.

MedCure is among the largest brokers of cadavers and body parts in the United States. From 2011 through 2015, documents obtained under public-record laws show, the company received more than 11,000 donated bodies and distributed more than 51,000 body parts to medical industry customers nationally. In a current brochure, the company says that 80,000 additional people have pledged to donate their bodies to MedCure when they die.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele confirmed the day-long search of the 25,000-square-foot facility, but declined to comment further because the matter is under seal. A person familiar with the matter said that FBI agents took records from MedCure but did not remove human remains.

The search warrant, though sealed, signals that an FBI investigation of MedCure has reached an advanced stage. To obtain a search warrant to seize records, rather than demand them via subpoena, FBI agents must provide a detailed affidavit to a U.S. magistrate with evidence to support probable cause that crimes have been committed and that related records may be on the premises.

"MedCure is fully cooperating with the FBI, and looks forward to resolving whatever questions the government may have about their business," said Jeffrey Edelson, a Portland attorney who represents the company. "Out of respect for the integrity of the process, we do not believe that further comment is appropriate at this time."

It is illegal to profit from the sale of organs destined for transplant, such as hearts and kidneys. But as a Reuters series detailed last month, it is legal in most U.S. states to sell donated whole bodies or their dissected parts, such as arms and heads, for medical research, training and education.

Commonly known as body brokers, these businesses often profit by targeting people too poor to afford a burial or cremation. Reuters documented how people who donate their bodies to science may be unwittingly contributing to commerce. Few states regulate the body donation industry, and those that do so have different rules, enforced with varying degrees of thoroughness. Body parts can be bought with ease in the United States. A Reuters reporter bought two heads and a spine from a Tennessee broker with just a few emails.

Some of the customers of companies like Medcure include medical schools, teaching hospitals, and thousands of research labs across the country engaged in vital work to find a cure for everything from cancer to the common cold.

It's the basic law of supply and demand.  There is an extremely limited supply that vastly outstrips demand, making human body parts worth their weight in gold. 

There are plenty of ethical questions posed by the sale of body parts, as we saw with Planned Parenthood's outrageous sale of fetal tissue that the company claimed was within the law.  The powerful organization managed to avoid prosecution but is being watched far more closely today, along with its customers.

And there may be questions about how companies like Medcure go about getting the bodies.  Do people who donate their loved ones' remains really know what they are being used for?  Donating a body to science ends up being a commercial transaction – something donor families may not be aware of.

This is an industry that cries out for more oversight to prevent abuse.  Whatever Medcure is being investigated for, you can be sure that other companies in the industry may be guilty of similar transgressions.

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