On March 1, 1999 my wife and I found ourselves faced with the traumatic realization that our two-year-old daughter had suffered a severe brain injury and would never recover. Her body was being kept alive by a myriad of medications and machines, but her soul was already gone.
We were presented with the opportunity to donate Alyssa’s organs and tissues and we offered everything we could because we felt it could help another child. Our goal was simple; to do what we could to prevent another mother and father from looking down upon their dying child knowing that nothing could be done to save him or her.
As a result of our experience with organ and tissue donation, I soon found myself changing my career by accepting a position with the very same tissue bank that had procured some of Alyssa’s gifts. I was so moved by our experience, and believed in donation so strongly, that I felt I had to do everything I could to help other families understand the true scope of organ, eye and tissue donation and what an incredible thing it truly was.
Almost immediately after I was hired, though, I began seeing a side of the tissue banking industry that no donor family should ever see. I began to discover that donated gifts are reduced to dollars and cents and that profits and dividends reign supreme in the tissue reclamation industry.
For many years, tissue banks have taken advantage of the law, and also taken advantage of the donors and donor families. On one hand, the law allows tissue banks to be reimbursed for “expenses” associated with the procurement and processing of the tissue, and on the other hand, the law makes it illegal to reimburse the donor families for even a fraction of the profits the tissue banks reap from the gifts that are so selflessly given.
The public façade of tissue banks is that of caring and understanding organizations who are “stewards of the gifts,” making donation possible and helping to improve and even save lives when the gifts are transplanted into the recipient.
The true nature of tissue banks, however, is much the same as every other for-profit institution: the bottom line. The manner in which they earn a profit is of less concern than whether or not they indeed do earn a profit, and how much that profit is. The truth is that the tissue banking industry earns billions of dollars each year from the generous gifts you and I both plan to give when we choose to become tissue donors.
It is important for all of us to understand what goes on behind the closed doors of tissue banks across the nation.
We need to understand not just how they are taking advantage of the generosity of others, but also how they operate on a day to day basis.
Working in a tissue bank was both an incredibly wonderful and incredibly horrible experience. It was wonderful to be a part of the process of tissue donation and transplantation, yet discovering the true nature of the industry and its daily operations was nothing less than horrific for someone who had just donated his daughter’s tissues.
Had I known what really goes on within the structure of the tissue banking industry, I never would have agreed to Alyssa’s donation.
Tissue banks need to be exposed for what many of them are: thoughtless, uncaring and unsympathetic profit and dividend machines.
Organ, eye and tissue donation have always been considered as a demonstration of one of the most caring, giving acts we, as human beings, can carry out. Giving of ourselves after we die so that others may live better lives, or simply just live, epitomizes the true definition of a selfless act. The industry must never forget that simple fact and treat each donor, and each donor’s gifts, with nothing less than total and complete respect.
Only when the dark side of tissue donation is exposed will the industry be forced to change the way it does business. Only then will the public demand stop the reign of profiteering tissue banks and return the industry to the altruistic endeavor it once was.