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New lawsuit filed in human tissue scandal

Jun 16, 2006 | The family of a local woman who died last year has filed suit against a New Jersey human tissue company and a Hilton funeral home, saying the woman's remains were harvested for body parts without the family's permission.

The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court on Wednesday, is the third legal action brought in local courts against Biomedical Tissue Services.

The company, beset by criminal charges and civil actions, is accused of harvesting bones, skin and other tissue from cadavers without obtaining permission from the decedents' survivors and without ensuring the tissue was free of communicable disease.

Federal officials have said that Biomedical harvested and sold about 25,000 pieces of tissue for use in surgical procedures. The Fort Lee, N.J., company, which had a branch office in Brighton, ceased operations in October after the allegations were made public.

In the latest civil action here, the four adult children of Nancy E. Chamberlain are accusing Biomedical and the Burger Funeral Home in Hilton of recovering tissue from Chamberlain's remains without consent. Chamberlain, a Hilton resident, was 71 years old when she died in August.

The court papers say family members were never told by funeral directors Thomas E. Burger and Jason L. Gano that their mother's remains were to be harvested.

Chamberlain's body was cremated following the recovery procedure, according to the court papers.

The family was informed earlier this year by an investigator from the Kings County District Attorney's Office in Brooklyn that their mother's body had been harvested for Biomedical and that an unknown party had signed a consent form.

"They're extremely upset by it. I think it was more shocking than anything else," said the family's lawyer, Charles Schiano Jr.

The Brooklyn DA's Office, which has been investigating Biomedical since November 2004, brought an indictment against four men, including company founder Dr. Michael Mastromarino, in February. They are awaiting trial on charges including enterprise corruption, forgery, grand larceny, body stealing and unlawful dissection.

Biomedical did its initial tissue procurement work in a Brooklyn funeral home, but it opened the branch office in Brighton in late 2004 and forged relationships with as many as eight local funeral homes. Authorities have said the company recovered tissue from as many as 65 bodies locally.

A local lawyer representing Burger Funeral Home, Charles Zambito, said Thursday that he had not seen a copy of the latest lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Two other suits alleging unauthorized tissue harvesting, filed on behalf of the families of seven deceased people, are pending in Rochester courts.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed nationwide against Biomedical by people whose loved ones' bodies were harvested by Biomedical, and by surgery patients who received tissue implants that originated with Biomedical.

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