July 26, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A body donation company in Phoenix, Ariz., is facing a total of 33 civil lawsuits on the part of shocked family members who found that the bodies of their loved ones had been misused or sold for profit between 2007 and 2015. The Biological Resource Center (BRC) has since closed, but its owners and other stakeholders will have to answer accusations on 11 counts, including mishandling of bodily remains, breach of contract, and sale for profit against the donors’ wishes. Worst of all, investigations by the FBI revealed utter disregard for the human bodies and human body parts stashed away at the Biological Resource Center.
Eight families are involved in the lawsuit, a mere handful compared with the more than 5,000 corpses harvested by the body donation companies in a decade. An investigation by Reuters tells how the FBI raided the 9,000-square-foot BRC building near Phoenix airport, only to find 10 tons of frozen bodies, whole or cut into pieces, “including 281 heads, 241 shoulders, 337 legs and 97 spines,” and a cooler filled with male “external reproductive organs,” as the business’s carefully kept records called them. A number of preserved fetuses were also found, according to the press.
Over the years, a further 20,000 or so body parts were sold at lucrative prices to all sorts of buyers, ranging from hospitals, surgical training centers, and the cosmetic industry to the Army, which used them in destructive experiments, even though BRC had promised the families of the deceased that that would not be the case. The military stopped buying body parts from BRC when it heard of the raid in 2014, Reuters made clear.
Accounts found at BRC show that a complete body would fetch over $5,000. Without shoulders or head, a body would sell for $2,900. Whole spines and whole legs went for about $1,000, a foot for $450, and a knee for $450.
One of the FBI agents who joined the raid in 2014 has since left the force. The agent was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the gruesome discoveries made at BRC.
Particularly macabre was a large male torso whose head had been severed and replaced by a small woman’s head — probably an extreme show of dark humor on the part of the company’s employees, who learned their peculiar butcher’s trade within its walls.
At the time, the stored bodies and parts were shifted to local funeral homes in 142 body bags for cremation, but that process was stopped because BRC objected to the destruction of material with a sales value of over 1 million U.S. dollars.
Agent Parker of the FBI still remembers his ghastly trip with the bags to specially hired industrial coolers on a military base, because the mortuaries where they had been stored were unable to keep them from thawing.
BRC’s boss — a man aptly named Stephen Gore — has already faced one trial after two years of criminal investigations. It led to four years’ probation and a one-year deferred prison sentence. This sentence was subsequent to complaints that he had provided buyers with contaminated human tissue and undue use of body parts in disregard of the donors’ stipulations.
Arizona has no regulations regarding use of human bodies and tissue, and BRC appears to have taken advantage of the fact. In fact, in the U.S., commercial use of human remains is not of itself illegal. Body donation facilities are allowed to collect corpses for research and other legitimate institutions, but they are expected to dispose of the remains with dignity.
Donors can decide to give their mortal remains to science for personal, often altruistic reasons; their families can also use these facilities after a loved one dies, often to save on funeral costs. Bodies are removed for free or at a low cost. In principle, donors or their families can make clear what they accept and, even more importantly, what uses they do not allow.
In the case of BRC, donor families were often from low-income categories, and they appear to have on occasion been tricked into signing forms they did not understand.
In several cases, bereaved families were led to believe that only “skin samples” would be taken, not realizing that language mentioning “tissue” retrieval designates any part of a body to the medical community, wrote Reuters. They thought cremation would take place after a few limited retrievals.
It also appears that hospices in Arizona offer their inmates the option of donating their bodies to science. One told Reuters that it had removed BRC from its “list of providers” when learning of the investigation in which BRC was involved.
Was BRC a rogue company that simply crossed the lines in unimaginably gory ways? One thing is sure: turning human remains into saleable goods is in itself problematic.
Archaeologists are certain that they are dealing with human beings when in their digs they find evidence of burial rituals. Treating bodies of the dead with respect, building tombs, and observing particular rites in laying fellow human beings to rest are indeed markers of humanity. They are linked to belief in the afterlife or some form of immortality and in the knowledge that a man, a woman, a child — even graves of unborn children have been found — is different in nature from an animal.
This is why the Biological Resource Center of Arizona so violently appalled those who witnessed its horrific vision of a butcher’s back room.
Seen from France, the story of the BRC’s exposure is not only shocking, but largely unimaginable. French law prohibits all commercial transactions involving human bodies and tissues (except for hair and nails and the like) at any point in the research or organ donation chain. A body can be bequeathed to science only by its “owner,” who is expected to pay for the costs associated with the gift (about 1,000 U.S. dollars). Many rules and regulations apply.
That is not to say that no scandals ever occur: some years back, the Parisian hospital of Saint-Vincent de Paul was in the news when fetuses were found conserved in conditions showing disrespect for the human body.
Bequeathing one’s body to science is not immoral. Saint Francis de Sales, who had a terrible illness as a student in Italy, actually took that step when he thought he was going to die because he knew that medical students of the time pillaged cemeteries and fought for bodies they had found due to the lack of corpses for their anatomy lessons, then a budding science. He recovered to become the great saint we know.
The lure of profit that nowadays surrounds human bodies — especially those of the weak; the poor; and the most vulnerable, such as the unborn — is a sign of very different times.
The Arizona scandal of BRC in fact appears as a grown-up variant of Planned Parenthood’s shocking sale of body parts of aborted babies, still possible today, generating big profits. David Daleiden’s fight to expose Planned Parenthood is still being covered by LifeSite (see here, for example). Selling those little bodies remains lucrative, as a report on Fox News made clear.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration was denounced for buying aborted baby parts for experiments on mice (see LifeSite’s coverage here).