TUCSON, Ariz. – The president of the American Association of Tissue Banks yesterday condemned a New Jersey company for what he alleged was its “unconscionable” role in a macabre scandal involving cadaver parts.
His voice cracking with emotion, James Forsell told those gathered at a tissue bank conference that thousands of families had been affected by potentially risky tissue scavenged from corpses.
“This gets me upset, and I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said, stopping several times to regain composure.
“We are outraged” at the “unconscionable” actions, he said.
Now-defunct Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J., is accused of using a network of funeral homes in Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere to plunder bodies without consent for bones, skin and other parts it then sold for use in medical procedures around the country.
Some of the tissue may have been diseased. One patient, Darlene Krzywicki of Northeast Philadelphia, said she had developed hepatitis C after getting cadaver bone marrow during spinal surgery.
Michael Mastromarino, the owner of Biomedical Tissue Services, and three others have pleaded not guilty to charges that include body stealing, unlawful dissection and forgery. A lawyer for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Forsell’s remarks.
The scandal is harming the industry’s credibility, said Forsell, senior vice president of Tissue Banks International, a Baltimore-based nonprofit network of eye and tissue banks.
Ensuring safety is important for existing sources of tissue and potential ones, such as stem cells, Jeffrey Jones, a University of Wisconsin stem-cell scientist, told the nearly 400 tissue-bank workers at the conference.
“You need to realize how important it is to everyone that you prevent things like this from happening in the future,” he said.
Authorities have not said how many patients may have received bone, tissue or tendons supplied by Biomedical Tissue Services. In recent weeks, hospitals have said they contacted hundreds of patients who may have received tainted tissue.
Those patients have been urged to get tested for AIDS, hepatitis and syphilis because investigators believe at least some tissue came from ineligible corpses.
Among the parts allegedly taken without consent, some came from the body of Alistair Cooke, host of PBS’ Masterpiece Theater, who died of cancer at age 95 in 2004.