Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Closure of body-parts trader raises questions in US

TISSUE TRADE SCANDAL Despite a criminal record and lack of qualifications, Philip Joe Guyett Jr. prospered as a flesh-and-bone prospector because of lax oversight in the US

AP , MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

Philip Joe Guyett Jr leaves an office in Carona, California, in this photo from October 1999, where police said they found a number of frozen body parts that Guyett was selling through two companies.

PHOTO: AP/LOS ANGELES TIMES, GLENN KOENIG

It could have ended three years ago, when a leaky FedEx box containing an arm and legs turned up in Missouri. Or years before that, when a judge convicted him of embezzling money from the sale of a corpse that belonged to a medical school in California.

But nothing stopped Philip Joe Guyett Jr. from moving steadily eastward, mining gold from the lucrative body parts trade. US federal officials shut down this flesh-and-bone prospector in Raleigh, North Carolina, earlier this month, saying his products posed a danger to public health.

By then, Guyett had supplied hundreds of tissues for knee repairs, spine surgeries and other medical procedures around the US, many of them allegedly procured in a non-sterile funeral home embalming room.

Despite his criminal record, he twice was able to register companies with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide tissue for transplants.

"Here's a convicted felon who could pretty much go anywhere in the country and open a tissue recovery agency," complained one tissue banker who refused to work with him, Ken Richardson of Nevada Donor Network. "That illustrates some of the problems with our existing regulatory structure."

Guyett, 38, denies any wrongdoing, and insists that he went out of business on his own accord some months back.

AT RISK

No one yet knows how many people received tissue he supplied or what risks they may face. Companies have been quietly recalling his products from doctors and hospitals since early last month.

Many who work in this field are outraged by the problem, the second big tissue scandal in a year, following one that led to criminal charges in New Jersey.

But a three-month investigation by the Associated Press, published in June, found that lax oversight of the billion-dollar industry allows such situations to occur and puts the public at risk.

Donated cadaver tissue is used in more than a million procedures each year, and most of these operations do a lot of good.

But poor testing or treatment can lead to infections like hepatitis -- and even death. Oversight is up to the FDA, but it relies on broad-brush rules. The American Association of Tissue Banks has strict standards, but the FDA does not require firms to abide by these rules.

"In this business what really rules is: Do you have the goods? Can you give the body parts that I need? If you have a sketchy background, that doesn't really make a difference. People just want to get the parts," said Annie Cheney, author of the book Body Brokers.

Time after time, the smooth-talking, affable Guyett found ways to get the goods.

"Our mission," he said when pitching tissue donation to residents of a suburban Raleigh retirement home last year, "is to give donors and their families an informed choice when considering making an anatomical gift."

MURKY RESUME

How and when Guyett got into the business isn't clear. Parts of the resume he gave the group sponsoring his talk do not match what others say. Like being an anatomy instructor at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, from 1997 to 1999. The school has no record of an instructor by that name, a school official said.

The resume also lists Guyett as a "forensic specialist" from 1993 to 1997 in the Clark County, Nevada, coroner's office. But that title isn't used at the Las Vegas agency and Guyett only volunteered there some weekends between 1994 and 1996 and was not a paid employee, said Coroner Michael Murphy.

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