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Tissue Bank Industry To Be Probed

June 9, 2000

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ The government plans to investigate the nation’s tissue bank industry, focusing on what families are told about how body parts of loved ones will be used, a Clinton administration official said.

Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced the investigation Thursday after meeting with senators from both parties to discuss the issue.

``This is the first time a public health administrator has had this level of seriousness about this issue,″ said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The investigation order follows a series of stories on abuses within the industry reported by The Orange County Register and the Chicago Tribune.

The reports detailed questionable practices and the millions of dollars in profits generated by the collection, distribution and use of donated tissue. They suggested an inadequate system that did not monitor whether tissue was distributed where the need was greatest.

The Register detailed how cadaver skin often is used for cosmetic purposes _ to puff up the lips of models, enlarge penises or smooth out wrinkles _ while burn wards face a shortage of skin to treat fire victims.

Nonprofit tissue banks may obtain body parts useful for up to 100 patients from a single cadaver. The parts are then sold to companies that make products used by doctors and dentists, and the banks and businesses share revenues despite laws barring profit from body parts.

Ethicists, the American Red Cross and the industry’s association said they support Shalala’s inquiry.

The American Association of Tissue Banks appreciates the inquiry ``and we certainly want to participate,″ said Bob Rigney, the group’s chief executive officer.

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