Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Mystery of the Crooked undertakers and Alistair Cooke

1.US undertakers admit corpse scam
BBC News Thursday, 19 October 2006, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK

Seven undertakers in the New York area have admitted being part of a scheme to steal body parts for transplants.

The criminal operation saw body parts removed from corpses without the consent of relatives and sold to biomedical companies.

The body of veteran BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke was among those used.
Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes said that hundreds of parts were sold for millions of dollars, and that more people were likely to be charged.

He said the seven, who have not been named, agreed to co-operate in the investigation and entered their pleas in a secret hearing.

One of those who pleaded guilty was the undertaker who removed parts from the body of Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004 aged 95, Associated Press reported.

Four other people who have been named - Michael Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli, Lee Cruceta, and Christopher Aldorasi - on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally harvesting bones and organs from up to 1,000 bodies, and were released on bail.
They could face up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

Mr Hynes said in a statement: "These ghoulish thieves thought they could pull off the crime of the century, stealing bones from the dead, without any thoughts to their victims' families or the transplant recipients who would receive possibly tainted bone and tissue grafts."

Cancerous bones

Prosecutors said they had unearthed evidence that death certificates and other paperwork were changed.

Brooklyn district attorney Michael Vecchione said: "They falsified documents indicating the bones were of people who had no diseases, when in fact most of them did have diseases - which would make the harvesting of those bones, and the reselling of them, illegal."

In Mr Cooke's case, his age was recorded as 85 rather than 95, and the cause of death was listed as a heart attack instead of lung cancer that had spread to his bones.

Other evidence includes X-rays and photographs of exhumed corpses showing that where leg bones should have been, someone had inserted white plastic pipes.

The pipes were crudely reconnected to hip and ankle bones with screws before the legs were sewn back up.

New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, said: "The unspeakable desecration of the bodies - PVC pipe was used to replace bones. Indeed, the very equipment that they used, the mask and gloves and surgical items were tossed into the bodies."

Transplanting tissues such as muscle, skin and bone is common in the United States and the trade in implantable body parts is legal, providing certain conditions are met.

2. Stolen body parts 'sold to NHS'

Potentially contaminated body parts allegedly stolen in the US may have been implanted into British patients, a government agency says.

Over 1,000 body parts were plundered by gangs in New York and then sold for transplants, it has been claimed.

Biomedical Tissue Services, the firm at the centre of the scandal, exported 77 body parts to the UK last year. (Read on...)

3.Highlights of Letter from America ( must read)

In his 58 years reporting US life in his Letter from America, the late Alistair Cooke offered his own view on some of the biggest events of the last half-century, as well as more personal moments, as these highlights from the archives reveal.

How it began Shortly after Letter from America's 50th anniversary Cooke addressed the Royal Television Society in New York on the history of the programme. As he explains in this extract from the lecture, when initially given the assignment, no one expected the programme to last quite as long as it did. (Read on...)

My comments:

Alistair Cooke was one of my favourite radio-journalists and I try not to miss his weekly broadcasts of "Letter from America" on BBC World Service.

His broadcasts were always thought-provoking and often from the view point of someone who truly loved and appreciated America. He never let any listener forget that America came to Europe's aid in the last world war and was Britain's truest friend in her hour of need.

It is sad to hear that his remains had been desecrated by some crooked morticians whose behaviour are a cross between the mafioso and the three stooges.

It would have been hilarious if it were not so tragic!

As an Ear Nose Throat (ENT) Surgeon, I have often used cadaveric (ie from dead people) ossicles and temporalis fascia for the reconstruction of middle ear anatomy and the ear drum. I have often wondered where these ossicles ( who FYI are the tiniest bones in the human body) came from. Well, my questions have been partially answered!

I just hope our Ministry of Health does not suddenly call me next week to trace the ossiculoplasties and tympanoplasties ( with fascia grafts) that I have done over the past few years.

I would not know what to say to my patients if it turns out that these implants had originated from New York!

Maybe this macabre episode may help some poor troubled patients understand why they keep hearing voices commentating about America from a certain Mr. Cooke. However, it may prove to be little comfort considering that nobody, not even their psychiatrists would believe that they actually hear voices and that they are not psychotic's having auditory hallucinations!

Anyway, for those of you who have not heard Alistair Cooke's "Letter from America", please tune in through my links and hear a master radio-journalist at his best!

I also hope that in the quest to make Singapore a medical hub for transplant medicine, no one here (esply from our Health Ministry) would get any bright ideas from this chain of events!


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

No comments: