WASHINGTON–U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) along with U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) introduced the Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act, legislation to protect the dignity of those who donate their bodies to education or research. Specifically, the bill would create standards for registration, inspection, chain of custody, labeling and packing, and proper disposition.  It would also create a registration and tracking system for bodies and body parts donated for research, thus preventing body brokers and bad actors from taking advantage of donors and donor families.  When a family donates a loved ones’ organs or tissues for transplantation, the process is transparent and heavily regulated.  However, in comparison, there is currently no federal law — and few state laws — governing the process when a body is donated for use in medical research or education.  In almost every state, it remains legal to sell the human remains of adults, and worse, under current law, almost anyone — regardless of expertise — can dissect and sell human body parts.  Because of this, grisly abuses of donor bodies abound.

“It’s deeply disturbing that this industry is allowing cadavers that have been donated for education or research to be exploited for profit. Grieving families deserve peace of mind that their loved one’s remains are being treated with dignity. This legislation would create desperately-needed regulations to increase transparency and stop bad actors from committing these gross abuses,” said Murphy.

"Most Americans would be shocked to learn that there is a for-profit body broker industry that creates significant ethical dilemmas and public health threats because of a lack of regulation," said Tillis. "This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will introduce much-needed accountability and regulatory oversight to protect public health and ensure that donors and their families are treated with respect and dignity."

“This important legislation provides safeguards to ensure that human remains are disposed of in a manner that preserves the dignity and choices of the patient or next of kin,” said Bilirakis. “The industry has been largely unregulated and sadly many families have been exploited for profit.  Our bill gives family members the peace of mind of knowing that their wishes are being honored.” 

“Families who choose to donate a loved one’s body for scientific research or educational use do so believing that they are benefitting others and that their loved ones will be treated with dignity and respect,” said Fletcher. “Sadly, many families have been taken advantage of by a largely unregulated industry.  I am glad to partner with Congressman Bilirakis, Senator Murphy, and Senator Tillis to ensure that donor bodies are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, while providing accountability and transparency.”

Currently, bodies and body parts ostensibly donated for medical research can be bought, sold, and leased again and again, making it extremely difficult without proper reporting requirements to consistently track what becomes of donors’ bodies, to ensure that they are handled with dignity, and to guarantee their return to their loved ones after cremation.  Brokers make money — anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 — by providing bodies and dissected parts to companies and institutions that specialize in advancing medicine and other trades through training, education, and research.  The Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act of 2023 would transform the landscape of tissue and whole-body donation by preventing body brokers from taking advantage of the generosity of donors and donor families by directing anyone who acquires or transfers a human body or human body part for education, research, or the advancement of medical, dental, or mortuary science to register with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, maintain a complete record for each case, ensure proper label and packaging of the remains, and dispose of them by returning them to a donor’s relative or personal representative.

Following are a few examples of the treatment donor bodies have been subjected to due to the lack of regulation of the process, as reported by Reuters:

  • In 2016, more than 20 bodies donated to an Arizona broker were used in U.S. Army blast experiments — without the consent of the deceased or next of kin. Some donors or their families had explicitly noted an objection to military experiments on consent forms.
  • In Honolulu, police were called twice to storage facilities leased by body broker Bryan Avery in 2011 and 2012.  Both times, they found decomposing human remains, but both times, police concluded that Avery committed no crimes because no state law applied.
  • Health inspectors who visited Southern Nevada Donor Services, which offered grieving families free cremation in exchange for donating a loved one’s body to “advance medical studies,” found a man in medical scrubs holding a garden hose, thawing a frozen human torso in the midday sun.  As the man sprayed the remains, “bits of tissue and blood were washed into the gutters.”

The Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act of 2023 is supported by the National Funeral Directors Association, the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world.