ARIZONA — A civil jury awarded $58 million Tuesday November 19th to 10 people who asserted a now-closed body donation facility mistreated the donated remains of their relatives and misled them about how the body parts would be utilized.
The trial against Stephen Gore, owner of the Biological Resource Center of Arizona, finished with jurors finding in support of 10 of 21 plaintiffs, awarding $8 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
An attorney for donor families said he believes jurors did not rule in favor of 11 other plaintiffs because they didn’t testify at trial.
Gore’s business was implicated of fraud by maintaining the donated bodies would be used for medical research, when it acknowledged some of the remains would be sold for military testing, such as crashes and explosions or sold to the black market in an international human corpse trafficking ring.
Authorities linked BRC to former Detroit mortician Arthur Rathburn who was one of Gore’s buyers. U.S. Customs agents discovered Rathburn at the U.S./Canada border secretly carrying 10 human heads. One of the heads had been sold by BRC to Rathburn. FBI agents were eventually able to trace 250 body parts purchased by Rathburn back to Gore and BRC.
Rathburn acquired bodies and body parts from Gore, then leased and marketed them for medical training at conventions and seminars. He also surreptitiously vended body parts from clients he’d been paid to cremate. An FBI agent was informed by his employees that the families of the deceased who asked for the cremated remains to be returned usually “got something else.”
In some cases, Rathburn intentionally rented and sold infected body parts obtained from Gore without telling prospective buyers they’d be exposed to infectious diseases.
Rathburn also used Delta cargo to mail body parts. Rathburn was condemned of fraud and shipping hazardous materials. He is serving nine years in federal prison. Federal prosecutor John Neal called Rathburn “deplorable.”
In 2014, the FBI discovered a human head sewn onto a mismatched body, a bucket of limbs and a cooler filled with penises during a raid on an alleged Phoenix body-donation business.
The now-closed, for-profit Biological Resource Center concentrated in receiving the bodies of recently-deceased people in promises to their families that they would give them back the remains of their loved ones that were not able to be sold to legal body donation facilities in Arizona, such as the use of corpses in training for medical examiners/coroners. But, in actuality, they were selling body parts of the families’ loved ones to middlemen from across the world in an international human corpse trafficking ring.
Arizona is a regulation-free zone for the controversial deathcare industry. At least four non-profit body donation companies are working in Arizona, in addition to a non-profit cryonics company that freezes bodies after they die with the intent of one day controversially bringing them back to existence. These four non-profit organizations are operating in legal authority, certified to provide human corpses to verified functions, such as for use in classes and on-site training for medical examiners, coroners, crime scene investigators, and others.
A former FBI special agent, during a January 2014 raid of the Biological Resource Center, found what he described as “various unsettling scenes.” The agent’s disgusting observer description of the raid was newly published in a civil lawsuit against the company and its proprietor, Stephen Gore. The case is set for trial Oct. 21 in Maricopa County Superior Court.
According to Reuters, FBI agents sequentially obtained 1,755 human body parts at the facility, filling 142 body bags weighing a total of 10 tons.
Thirty-three plaintiffs have petitioned the Biological Resource Center, stating the remains of their family members were gathered through “false statements,” that body pieces were being marketed for profit to multiple middlemen, and that the corpses were treated with a lack of dignity and respect in their storage, treatment or disposal.
Arizona passed a law in 2017 that states body donation companies are not permitted without a state license. Nonetheless, the legislation has not yet been implemented or enforced.
All four legal body donation companies known to be working in Arizona are certified by the American Association of Tissue Banks, meanwhile, the Biological Resource Center was not certified.
The Phoenix-based organization Biological Resource Center was raided after a national criminal investigation into the controversial body-broker industry.
In his declaration included in the civil lawsuit’s court file, past Phoenix FBI special agent Mark Cwynar stated he “personally observed various unsettling scenes” while inside Biological Resource Center.
Most of the body parts he examined were stacked on top of one another with no visible identification to indicate what bodies they came from or to whom they belonged, he stated.
In addition to a “cooler filled with male genitalia,” Cwynar affirmed that he also observed a “large torso with the head removed and replaced with a smaller head sewn together in a ‘Frankenstein’ manner.”
This is possibly the most controversial reality of this situation in America: In most states, anyone can legally purchase body parts, without fear of legal recourse or punishment.
Cwynar declared he viewed: large male torsos with limbs and genitalia removed, buckets and coolers with various body parts, including a bucket of heads, arms, and legs, body parts heaped on top of each other throughout the facility, with no obvious identification, steel freezers with frozen body parts inside with no obvious identification.
Court documents incorporated a report from two experts for the plaintiffs that referred to a 2013 request to use at least two Biological Resource Center bodies for the design of “plastination for education.” The experts said plastination, which is a 100% legal form of preserving entire human bodies, should require separate approval because the preservation is more permanent and the bodies are often publicly displayed.
In October 2015, Gore pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal enterprise after allegations that he had presented vendors with contaminated human tissue and used body parts in ways that the donors had not explicitly permitted.
Stephen Gore, the organization’s owner, was convicted to one year of deferred jail time and four years of probation after pleading guilty to illegal control of an enterprise.
Some families believed that a body “donation” meant their loved ones’ bodies were being transferred to a charity to assist with disease research. Some wrongly presumed the Biological Resource Center would be donating their loved ones’ organs, not comprehending that organ donation and body donation are completely different.
Reuters, however, publishes that at least 21 bodies bequeathed to BRC were later utilized by the U.S. Army for blast experiments to study the effects of roadside bombs, without the families’ knowledge or permission.
Not all were aware the Biological Resource Center often dismembered and marketed various body parts to different entities for profit.
A 2013 price list that is part of the court file registers sale prices for various body parts:
- Whole body with no shoulders or head: $2,900.
- Torso with head: $2,400.
- Whole spine: $950.
- Whole leg: $1,100.
- Whole foot: $450.
- Knee: $375.
- Pelvis: $400.
Every year, thousands of Americans bequeath their bodies in the hope they are contributing to science. In actuality, many are also unconsciously contributing to the business of body brokers, their loved ones’ bodies sold and purchased as raw corporeality in a principally unchecked, uncontrolled national market.
Body brokers are also identified as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinguished from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government strictly controls. Selling hearts, kidneys, and tendons for transplant is prohibited. But no federal law directs/dictates the sale of cadavers or body parts for examination research or education. Rarity of state laws provide no oversight whatsoever, and virtually anyone, despite lack of expertise or experience, can dissect and market human body parts in the body-broker industry.
The deathcare industry’s business model depends on access to an extensive supply of unlimited bodies, which frequently arise from the poor. In repayment for a corpse, brokers typically cremate a piece of the donor at no charge. By offering free cremation, some deathcare business veterans maintain, financiers appeal to impoverished families at their most exposed. Many have exhausted their life’s savings financing a loved one’s medical treatment and can’t furnish a conventional funeral.
Donated bodies normally perform an essential role in medical education, training, and research. Cadavers and body parts are utilized to instruct medical students, doctors, nurses, and dentists. Surgeons maintain no mannequin or computer simulation can replicate the tactile response and emotional reality of practicing on human body parts. Paramedics, for example, utilize human heads and torsos to determine how to insert breathing tubes.
Researchers rely on donated human body parts to produce innovative surgical instruments, techniques and implants; and to generate new medicines and treatments for diseases. However, no national or state-by-state registry of body-brokers exists, in a glaring discrepancy of federal observation and regulation. In almost every US state, marketing human body parts is permitted as long as they are not fetuses. The vast majority of states do not have explicit rules/regulations for how donated cadavers are required to be stored or sold.