Watch CBSN Live

A Business of Growth and Greed

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.'"

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 making 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.

©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue