Body Broker Aspires to 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body'


Under the headline "GOP Senate hopeful got rich diverting corpsemeat from burn victims to enlarge penises," boingboing relays this Markos Moulitsas report:

Following the sale of his prominent Sioux Falls family's surety bond company, [former South Dakota lieutenant governor and potential Senate candidate] Kirby branched out into more exotic business terrain when he founded Bluestern Venture Capital in 1992. Among Bluestern's portfolio companies was a Massachusetts-based biotech firm called Collagenesis — a company whose business model couldn't have been more foreign to the stolid world of South Dakota surety bonding.

Collagenesis specialized in processing donated skin off cadavers into cosmetic surgery products, and was subject to a blistering five-part investigative series by the Orange County Register beginning on April 17, 2000. "Burn victims lie waiting in hospitals as nurses scour the country for skin to cover their wounds, even though skin is in plentiful supply for plastic surgeons," read the lede of the Register report. "The skin they need to save their lives is being used instead for procedures that could wait: supporting bladders, erasing laugh lines and enlarging penises."

Suffice it to say that penis enlargement represented a slight departure from the Kirby family's traditional business of bonding hard-working Sioux Falls mason contractors.

This narrative about biomedical companies taking skin from burn centers has never made much sense to me. Yes, it's true that corporations like Lifecell don't lack for corpses, and some burn centers suffer for lack of donors. But the body parts going to LifeCell are available because LifeCell incentivizes middlemen to scour nursing homes and hospitals for willing donors. It's not as if there is a fixed pool of donated cadavers, everyone jumps in, and burn centers come up short. And the potential supply of skin donors is huge, because, in contrast to organ donation, almost any cadaver will do.

That said, few of the people donating their bodies to various skin banks are aware that they're about to become lip filler. Brokers, who need to offer a motivation to donate but can't offer payment by law, ply potential donors with images of child burn victims. The business model is built on dishonesty. And it's worth noting that Kirby decided to invest in the process after the Register expose appeared.

My report on Alistair Cooke, LifeCell, and penis enlargement is here.