A Business Of Growth And Greed

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Tissue banks are growing in popularity, and corporations are helping.

The tissue business used to be dominated by local non-profit organizations. But CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports that's changing as big corporations, responsible to stockholders, are turning it into a billion dollar industry.

And unlike lifesaving organ donations, tissue donations— such as veins, skin and bones— are not tightly regulated.

It's against the law to sell tissue, but companies get around that by charging high service fees for collecting, processing and shipping the tissue.

One human body can be worth more than $100,000 in parts.

Young Kelly Hills knows nothing about that. All she knows is that she loves archery— she's the best in the West in her age group— and that if she hadn't received tissue transplants, she probably would have lost one of her legs.

"I wouldn't be able to run around around," Kelly said. I wouldn't be able to try and walk like a normal kid."

Her parents found out about Kelly's bone cancer when she was 4 years old.

"The initial word that we got was she had a 30 percent chance of survival and she was going to lose her leg," said her father, Jim Hills.

"And from that initial diagnosis it was 'dreams lost' and now it's 'dreams realized.'"

Grabbing The Gift Of Life
Just hours after Bob and Sandy Johnston learned a drunk driver killed their daughter, Jill, their phone started ringing — not with condolences, but with calls from a California tissue bank trying to convince the Johnstons to donate Jill's body.

Is this what for-profit tissue collection is all about? One company's CEO says no. Click here to read Part II of CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales' report.

But for those dreams to be realized, a family had to donate the body of a loved one to the non-profit Northwest Tissue Center in Seattle. Human bone processed at that facility saved Kelly's leg.

"What a gift! And there's nothing else that would have worked," said Jim Hills.

But, while Kelly's dad is grateful to families who make the tough decision to donate, he is troubled by reports that some corporations are profiting from those gifts.

"When you donate something, there is no profit to that. It's a gift," he said.

"If someone else is mking a profit off of that -- that's somehow a violation of that initial trust."

Trust that their gift is going to help those in need, such as burn victims. Donor families probably never imagine, and are rarely told, that tissue can also be processed into collagen for wrinkle removal, lip enhancements and other cosmetic procedures.

And demand is steadily increasing for bone and ligaments to repair the aging bodies of baby boomers.

In fact, demand for these products is so great that some tissue banks are coercing, even lying to families still in shock over the death of a loved one.

It can be a hard sell at a family's most vulnerable time. "I feel I was pressured into it but had to make a decision and I said 'yes,'" said Sandy Johnston.



  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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