Only Feds Investigating Closed N.C. Body-Parts Broker
Posted August 24, 2006 7:55 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal regulators stepped in to shut down a body-parts broker accused of carving up cadavers in the back of a funeral home, but so far no other agency appears to be investigating the practices of Donor Referral Services.
The state Attorney General's Office, the Wake County District Attorney's Office and the Raleigh police say they aren't looking into whether any laws have been broken. State health officials said they have little, if any, authority over businesses that collect and distribute human tissue.
Oversight of the billion-dollar industry seemed to be the sole responsibility of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"We have no regulatory authority. It's all regulated by the FDA," said Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. "I checked everywhere, and we have nothing to do with this."
The tissue industry is tremendously important because cadaver tissue is used in more than a million transplants each year in back surgeries, knee repairs and other routine procedures. But the industry operates with little regulation, according to a three-month investigation by The Associated Press earlier this year.
The FDA shut down Donor Referral Services of Raleigh late Friday, saying the company had "serious deficiencies" in its processing, donor screening and record-keeping. Company owner Philip Guyett was accused of altering records to overlook cancer and drug use by some deceased donors.
Guyett did not return a message left by The Associated Press for his listed cellular phone number, and his listed phone number was not accepting calls Wednesday, according to a recorded message. He declined to comment earlier this week when a reporter went to his house.
In an interview with The News & Observer, however, the 38-year-old Guyett said the company complied with all federal regulations for harvesting and distributing human tissue.
Guyett, who said he quit the tissue trade this year, said he hoped the negative publicity won't deter potential donors.
"Tissue donation for any reason is an honorable gift to life, research and education," he said. "Those who choose to make this gift should feel good about their decision."
Guyett is accused of recovering tissue from cadavers while working in an embalming room that wasn't sterile at Cremation Society of the Carolinas, a Raleigh funeral home.
Funeral home president Larry Parker said that Guyett paid him $1,000 for each of the roughly 60 donors the funeral home referred and that other funeral homes also worked with Guyett. Parker said he has been cooperating with the FDA since the agency contacted him several weeks ago.
"My concern is the funeral home involvement," said Paul Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Funeral Services, which regulates funeral homes statewide.
He said it's not uncommon for eye corneas, bone and other tissue to be collected in embalming rooms, but he was uncomfortable with the described arrangement between Guyett and Parker.
"Organ procurement, in my experience, has been handled in a much different way," he said. "I want to see the (FDA) information to determine whether any funeral homes or establishments have broken any laws."
Phone messages weren't returned Wednesday by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, who would handle any federal charges.
Guyett appears to have a felony conviction from a previous tissue scandal in California. A man with the same name, date of birth and other records pleaded no contest to a felony, embezzlement stemming from the willed body program he directed in the late 1990s at an osteopathic college in Pomona, Calif., said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.
Guyett was accused of selling a cadaver to another school and keeping the $1,100 payment. When police raided a warehouse he used at the time, they found three freezers containing human heads and hearts.