By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Selling body parts to the highest bidder is a gruesome, unregulated, practice that CBS 2 has exposed for years–and now changes are happening at the state level because of it.

Governor JB Pritzker just signed a bill introduced as a result of that work, creating a first step to preventing families from going through what hundreds already have.

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CBS 2’s Tara Molina first started talking to Secretary of State Jesse White about the body brokering business back in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the work a bit, but now a state task force is at work, thanks to the governor’s signature.

White first floated the proposed legislation in June, 2019, saying then: “The legislation that we are are working on in Springfield … is a result of your investigation and your reporting of the infraction of individuals slinging body parts for financial gain.”

That was after CBS 2 exposed, through a series of reports spanning months, the gruesome, unregulated practice of black market body brokering. Two men in Illinois, Donald Greene Sr. and Donald Greene Jr., are still awaiting sentencing on the federal charges related to the selling of diseased parts.

The families thought they’d donated bodies for the greater good, only to find out they were dissected and sold off to the highest bidder.

Over the years, CBS 2 has talked to donor families thought their loved ones donated their bodies for the greater good, medical research, only to find out they were dissected and sold off.

Tracy Smolka said her father’s “knees were taken with a value of $350 each. His shoulders with a value of $700.”

He was “butchered and sold for profit,” Tracy Smolka said.

Now, thanks to a signature from Pritzker, the legislation White talked about years ago is now a reality.

The bill creates a task force that will start overseeing the industry here, currently operating without oversight, while working on set rules and regulations.

“It’s a good first step,” said Illinois Rep. Dan Brady, a former county coroner and current licensed funeral director. He sponsored the bill and told Molina today he, other lawmakers, representatives from the Secretary of State’s office, public health the Governors office and the health and science field are ready to get to work. “I think there needs to be a universal whole body consent form in Illinois. I hope there’s a clearer explanation of body donation and what dissection is to those potential donors and their families.”

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Brady also noted the body brokering business is entirely different from donating organs for transplants.

“It’s a non-transplant donor, and I think that’s where the public gets confused,” said Brady, who explained body brokering occurs when someone is “selling body parts after one believes they’ve made a donation, full body donation.”

Body donation involves donating the full body for use in medical training or research on the development of new drugs and medical procedures. Organ donation is used for transplant purposes.

The new Illinois task force is set to start meeting immediately and get recommendations for further regulation to the governor by January.

Secretary of State statement: 

Secretary White is honored to chair the newly created Task Force on Best Practices and Licensing of Non-Transplant Organ Donation Organizations.  He was shocked to hear of some of the practices in this field that has little regulation. Much needs to be done to reassure the public that these organizations are operating honorably and humanely. Invitations have been sent out to committee members, and we look forward to hearing testimony from all interested parties, especially those people who have been victimized. The Secretary continues to strongly urge people to join the organ donor registry for transplant purposes.

We appreciate Channel 2 bringing this issue to our attention and keeping the public informed.

Meantime, proposed legislation recently introduced at the federal level aims to regulate the unregulated body brokering industry.

It would do so by requiring brokers and buyers to register with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, maintain complete records, ensure proper labeling and packaging of remains, and dispose of them by returning them to the donor’s relative or representative.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush said his goal is to make sure another family doesn’t suffer the way hundreds in Illinois already have.

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“We would not be where we are today at the state level and also at the federal level without your excellent work, investigative work,” Rush said.

Tara Molina