Sunday 16 June 2019

Preserved foetuses found among rotting heads at 'body brokers'

Arthur Rathburn is pictured at the University of Michigan in November 1988. Photo: Reuters/Peter Yates/File Photo
Arthur Rathburn is pictured at the University of Michigan in November 1988. Photo: Reuters/Peter Yates/File Photo

John Shiffman Washington

US Federal agents found four preserved foetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show.

The foetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn's warehouse.

The foetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue.

Photos from inside Mr Rathburn's warehouse offered a stark example of government failures to police the industry. They include images of rotting human heads, some floating face up in a plastic cooler.

Mr Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January.

How Mr Rathburn got the foetuses and what he intended to do with them is unclear. Mr Rathburn's lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

"This needs to be reviewed," said US Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who recently chaired a special US House committee on the use of foetal tissue.

Ms Blackburn recoiled when a Reuters reporter showed her some of the photographs, taken by government officials involved in the raid.

In four of the photos, a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a different foetus from the brownish liquid.

In three other photos, a marker that includes a government evidence identification number lies beside a foetus.

"The actions depicted in these photos are an insult to human dignity," said US Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

A Republican from Virginia, Mr Goodlatte said that if individuals "violate federal laws and traffic in body parts of unborn children for monetary gain" they should be "held accountable".

Mr Rathburn has pleaded not guilty to selling infected body parts of adults.

Ms Blackburn said the discoveries in Mr Rathburn's warehouse raise questions about the practices of body brokers.

Such brokers take cadavers donated to science, dismember them and sell them for parts, typically for use in medical research and education.

The multimillion-dollar industry has been built largely on the poor, who donate their bodies in return for a free cremation of leftover body parts.

The buying and selling of cadavers and other body parts - with the exception of organs used in transplants - is legal and virtually unregulated in America.

But trading in foetal tissue violates US law.

In most states, public health authorities are not required to regularly inspect body broker facilities.

As a result, it's impossible to know whether body brokers who deal in adult donors are profiting from foetuses.

Ms Blackburn's call for action came in response to a Reuters series that exposed abuses in the human body trade and what Ms Blackburn called "lax oversight" and "lax enforcement" of the industry.

Irish Independent

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