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 Dutch hospitals to drop U.S. body brokers, cite ethical concerns

Two major Dutch hospitals say they will stop importing human body parts from American firms, which they have been doing without any regulation for a decade.

The hospitals told Reuters in recent weeks they made their decisions on ethical grounds. The move comes amid investigations by U.S. law enforcement into some so-called body brokers – companies that obtain the dead, often through donation, dissect them and sell the parts for profit.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that one broker under scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation – Portland, Oregon-based MedCure – has used a Dutch hub to distribute tens of thousands of kilograms of human body parts across Europe since 2012. U.S. authorities suspect MedCure sold body parts tainted with disease to American and foreign customers, a concern triggered in part by such shipments to Canada and Hong Kong, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Reuters found that importers of U.S. body parts included two Dutch hospitals. The news agency uncovered no evidence body parts used in the Netherlands were infected, but the Dutch hospitals said they would drop the suppliers in response to reporting by Reuters which raised questions about how the brokers acquired body donations.

The country’s largest hospital, Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center (AMC), said it bought between 300 and 500 heads from U.S. brokers, which in the past included MedCure, to cover a shortfall. The parts, used for research and training courses, were bought as early as 2008 and as recently as Nov. 21, the hospital said.

Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam said it bought knees and shoulders from a U.S. supplier but declined to provide details. The hospital said it used the parts for research and training courses which were not designed to make profits.

The health ministry declined to comment on the hospitals’ decision, and said there is no specific regulatory body which oversees the use of such samples.

From 2012 to 2016, according to manifest records reviewed by Reuters, MedCure shipped body parts valued at a total of more than $500,000 from the United States to the Netherlands. MedCure said it helps connect donors and scientific, research and medical entities. “We are an accredited and regulated institution and adhere to the best-in-class industry standards for safety ethics, and transparency,” the company said in a statement to Reuters.

Dutch laws govern the use of donated organs, the transportation of bodies and cremation, but there are none pertaining to body parts used for training or research, Dutch Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins told parliament in April.

The health ministry said it saw no need to regulate the trade in body parts because hospitals take precautions.

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