Commodifying tissues and cells: The new tissue economies
In Britain in 2006, news coverage of ‘stolen body parts sold to the NHS’ revealed that bone products used in dental and hip implantations represented a potential health risk to recipients, because the sourcing of bone had not been carried out in accordance with appropriate safety procedures. Following investigations by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a company supplying tissues and cells, it was revealed that the FDA had ‘uncovered serious violations of the regulations governing donor screening and record keeping practices, as well as failures to follow their own standard operating procedures’ to prevent contamination and reduce public-health risks.1
Moreover the chief executive of the company and others were subsequently indicted for obtaining tissue from cadavers illegally and falsifying death certificates. The supply of human tissues was found to be illegal and unsafe, and companies using it in their products were implicated in a public-health scandal on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) notified hospitals of the ethical issues relating to lack of consent when the material was procured, but assured the public and clinicians that the bone filler product used in the United Kingdom did not represent a public-health risk, because it had undergone a sterilization process during preparation. It was possible to trace the material back to the source and to the recipients (though not all recipients had been informed of the source of the products used in their surgery). The supplier, Biomedical Tissue Services, was ordered by the FDA to cease trading.