WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Colorado has adopted a law to regulate companies that solicit bodies donated to science and sell the parts to medical educators, the governor’s office announced this week.
The new legislation follows a Reuters report in January about a Montrose, Colorado, woman who operated a funeral home and body donation business from the same location.
In February, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided her offices and began contacting families whose loved ones were handled by her firm, Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors. Some suspect that their relatives’ bodies were sold without their consent.
The law, signed on Wednesday by Governor John Hickenlooper, aims to prevent anyone from owning both a funeral home and a body donation company, which are also known as non-transplant tissue banks or body brokers.
“It’s traumatizing to think that you take your loved one in and you think they’re treated with dignity and respect and they’re actually just looked at as a piece of meat and market value,” said Colorado state Senator Don Coram, who sponsored the act. “The goal is that this never happens to anyone else ever again.”
The law also establishes qualifications and regulations for body brokers for the first time in Colorado, which was one of 40 U.S. states without specific rules on the storage, lease and sale of human remains donated for educational and research use. In most states, operating a body broker firm is legal.
“It’s great to see that something’s being done,” said Diana McBride, whose stepfather Gerald Hollenback was cremated at Sunset Mesa in 2017. An analysis of the remains raised questions about what happened to his body, and McBride fears parts may have been sold by a side business. “Closure would be knowing what happened to him, and we’ll never have that.”
After the FBI raid, state regulators closed the funeral home, Sunset Mesa, which operated body broker Donor Services from the same address. Regulators said Sunset Mesa failed to maintain required cremation and final disposition records, and that at least one family found that what were purported to be cremated ashes were instead grains of dry concrete.
A lawyer for Megan Hess, the owner of Sunset Mesa and Donor Services, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
After the original Reuters report, the FBI was so overwhelmed by calls about Hess that it set up a hotline and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for people with information or concerns.
The new law requires that a body broker employ at least one person with two years experience in the field and maintain sanitary practices. It also requires that brokers provide a receipt to anyone who donates a body and a disclosure that the human remains may be distributed in whole or part.
The law also requires brokers to keep records that track the transport of body parts as they are distributed. It provides a criminal misdemeanor penalty for violations, with a maximum sentence of 18 months.
The law is expected to take effect around Aug. 8.
Reporting by John Shiffman in Washington and Reade Levinson in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler