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Organ Donor Networks Face “Body Broker” Lawsuits

Organ Donor Networks Face “Body Broker” Lawsuits

January 13, 2017 — An in-depth investigation by Reuters tells the story of how the body of an Arizona organ donor ended up as target practice for the U.S. Army.

The story is not isolated — it is just one case out of thousands linked to a growing and unregulated industry known as “body brokers.”

Last year, the family of an Ohio teenager filed a lawsuit claiming the coroner and an organ donation company illegally harvested her body parts before determining how she died.

Lawyers say Lifeblanc pressured the family to sign paperwork, misled the family about how organ donation would affect the investigation, and worked with the coroner to harvest her organs before the autopsy.

USA Today conducted an investigation in 2006 and found that over 16,800 families had filed lawsuits claiming their loved ones’ body parts were stolen for profit since 1987.

Last April, three sisters filed a lawsuit against Nevada Donor Network, claiming the non-profit organ donation company misled them to get permission to harvest tissues from the body of their mother, Judith Bennett.

Open casket funerals were a tradition in the family, and because Bennett died so suddenly, the “family really needed to have closure through the viewing,” especially for out-of-town relatives, the girls said.

The girls were promised Bennett would “look just the same,” so they signed the paperwork. Instead, when they went to the funeral home to prepare her body for an open-casket funeral, they were shocked.

Her body was so “substantially disfigured” that that only thing the oldest daughter could do was “lay her head on her mother’s chest, cry, and apologize for allowing NDN to mutilate her mother’s body.”

Lawyers say Nevada Donor Network “exceeded the scope of their consent” to harvest the body after misleading the girls to get consent.

The daughters agreed to donate thin strips of skin, long bones, and corneas. Instead, they say so much skin was removed that the embalming fluid leaked out and smelled. All of the connective tissue in her lower body was removed. Her legs were also significantly shorter.

After hearing about the lawsuit, Dr. Joan Brookhyser — who helped create Nevada’s organ donor program — said “This case is the tip of the iceberg” and she is no longer registered to donate.

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