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Willed body case continues

By Jeyling Chou

March 3, 2005 9:00 p.m.

The UCLA Willed Body Program has been suspended for almost a
year as litigation and recommendations for reform proceed
steadily.

Permission to reinstate the program may be requested this
summer.

“We’re pleased and we’re in no hurry,”
said UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale in a Feb. 25 interview with
the Bruin, referring to the proposed reforms. “It’s
more important to get it right than get the willed body program
functioning again.”

UCLA’s program, established in 1950, was the first of its
kind. Willed body programs now exist across the country to receive
donated cadavers for the purpose of medical education and
research.

A lawsuit was brought against UCLA in March 2004 when the
program’s director, Henry Reid, was arrested and charged with
selling body parts for personal gain.

The scandal received international press.

“The media attention on this case was astounding,”
said Mike Eyerly, a lawyer who has been involved in several willed
body suits against UCLA since 1996.

“That was a really good thing because willed body programs
throughout the country kind of exist in the dark ““
there’s not a lot of transparency.”

This lawsuit is only the most recent of three suits being
handled by the law offices of Mike Arias and Raymond Boucher. The
1996 suit was filed against the UCLA program for improper handling
of cadaveric material after human ashes were found in a medical
waste container in the Santa Monica Bay.

A December 2004 report, developed by the Navigant Counsulting,
Inc. and requested by the UC Regents, outlined UC-wide standards
for the use of cadaveric materials in willed body programs.

Some of the recommendations include stricter employee background
checks and heavier oversight.

The UCLA program is currently overseen by Allen Nissenson,
director of the division of nephrology in the UCLA Medical
School.

Nissenson wrote in an e-mail that he could not provide
information on legal proceedings, and referred questions to
university lawyers.

Carnesale has stated the university is in full agreement with
Navigant’s recommendations.

Though they were interviewed by Navigant about possible reforms,
lawyers involved in the case say they did not feel that they had
enough involvement in the drafting of the report.

“I felt that it should have been more of a collaborative
effort between our offices on behalf of the family members so that
everything proposed to the regents would be from all concerned
parties,” said Arias, who has been involved in the willed
body suits since the first one in 1996.

“I was somewhat disenchanted by the lack of involvement in
the final drafting,” Arias added.

A status conference for the 2004 suit was held before a court
Thursday in order to review evidence produced in the criminal
investigation and to take steps toward a class action.

In the proceedings, UCLA has said that no state or federal law
explicitly prohibits the sale or reallocation of body parts.

“Taken in a vacuum, that statement very well may be true,
but our suit doesn’t involve a vacuum,” Eyerly said.
“The plaintiffs and the family members we represent are suing
because they were told by UCLA that the bodies would be used for
medical research and education, and that nobody else would have
access to those bodies.”

The relatively new industry of body donation is one that has few
regulations and laws governing it.

“People don’t give them much thought until something
like this happens,” Eyerly said. “There’s a huge
black market for body parts and there’s a huge need for body
parts.”

Due to lack of precedence and penal codes, criminal charges
against Henry Reid were dropped last year, though future charges
are expected, Eyerly said.

The current litigation against the UCLA Willed Body Program will
set precedence and reform procedures.

“Once these new programs are put into place it truly will
be a model program,” Arias said.

“My hope is what’s happening here and this
litigation will set a standard of practice and will be adopted by
willed body programs throughout the country.”

The 1996 lawsuit regarding the improper treatment and disposal
of cadaveric material is currently waiting certification as a class
action, representing the individual complaints of thousands of
families.

A second case was filed in 1998, not seeking monetary damages,
but an injunction to ensure proper management of the UCLA
program.

Eyerly said he expects that this case may be resolved in the
next six months.

The misconduct of the willed body program has affected families
who have participated in the program since 1972. Relief and damages
have yet to come through litigation.

“A lot of folks have taken this really hard,” Eyerly
said. “A lot of family members feel really
betrayed.”

Families have contributed to recommendations on what they would
like to see in the willed body program, and have also stayed
involved in the legal proceedings.

“Litigation-wise, it sounds like we are in this thing for
the long haul,” Eyerly said.

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