33 plaintiffs say Biological Resource Center lied to families and treated the deceased with a lack of dignity or respect.
A head sewn onto a mismatched body, a bucket of limbs and a cooler filled with penises are among items found by FBI agents during a raid on a Phoenix body-donation business.
The now-shuttered, for-profit Biological Resource Center specialized in accepting the bodies of people after they had died, and in exchange offering their families free pickup of the bodies plus the cremated remains of the body parts the company did not sell.
Arizona is a regulatory-free zone for the body-parts industry. At least four body donation companies are operating in Arizona, in addition to a non-profit cryonics company that freezes people after they die with the intent of one day bringing them back to life.
An FBI special agent, during a January 2014 raid of the Biological Resource Center, stumbled on what he described as “various unsettling scenes.” The agent’s grisly eyewitness account of the raid was recently revealed in a civil lawsuit against the business and its owner, Stephen Gore. The case is set for trial Oct. 21 in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Thirty-three plaintiffs have sued the Biological Resource Center, saying the remains of their family members were obtained through “false statements,” that body parts were being sold for profit to various middlemen, and that they were not stored, treated or disposed of with dignity or respect.
Reacting to the Biological Resource Center case, Arizona passed a law in 2017 that says body donation companies are not allowed without a state license. However, the law has not yet been implemented or enforced.
All four body donation companies known to be operating in Arizona are accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks, which the Biological Resource Center was not.
The Phoenix company was raided after a nationwide criminal investigation.
Efforts to reach Gore, who is listed in court filings as representing himself in the civil action, were unsuccessful.
‘Frankenstein’ head observed
In his declaration contained in the civil lawsuit’s court file, former Phoenix FBI special agent Mark Cwynar said he “personally observed various unsettling scenes” while inside Biological Resource Center.
Many of the body parts he saw were piled on top of one another with no apparent identification to indicate what bodies they came from or to whom they belonged, he said.
In addition to a “cooler filled with male genitalia,” Cwynar testified that he also saw a “large torso with the head removed and replaced with a smaller head sewn together in a ‘Frankenstein’ manner.”
Cwynar said he saw:
- Large male torsos with limbs and genitalia removed.
- Buckets and coolers with various body parts, including a bucket of heads, arms and legs.
- Body parts piled on top of each other throughout the facility, with no apparent identification.
- Steel freezers with frozen body parts inside with no apparent identification.
Court documents included a report from two experts for the plaintiffs that referred to a 2013 request to use at least two Biological Resource Center bodies for the purpose of “plastination for education.” The experts said plastination, which is a way of preserving entire human bodies, should require separate consent because the preservation is more permanent and the bodies are often publicly displayed.
In October 2015, Gore tearfully pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal enterprise after accusations that he had provided vendors with contaminated human tissue and used body parts in ways that the donors had not permitted.