Before referring questions to a lawyer, Hess spoke extensively with Reuters about her body broker company. In an interview in 2016, she described Donor Services as a small, family business. She took orders for body parts via Hotmail, email records show. She said she and her mother, Koch, handled about 10 cadavers a month in the back room. Her father, Alan Koch, ran the crematory, Hess said.
Hess made donating a body online easy. On her cremation marketing website, a donor could simply select from a drop-down menu, fill out a few forms, click “Add to Cart,” and enter a credit card number. Her funeral home site listed her credentials, including a PhD in mortuary science.
After a reporter asked questions about the website and her background, Hess removed the “Add to Cart” donation pages from her cremation website and cut the mention of the mortuary science degree from her online biography. No such degree exists in the United States for morticians, veteran funeral directors say. Her revised online biography cited her high school degree and “a love of veterinary medicine.”
Body brokers like Donor Services are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Suppliers of transplant tissue must obtain federal recognition and operate as charities. It is illegal to buy or sell organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant.
But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight. That means almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human remains.
Reuters identified 34 body brokers that have been active across the United States during the past five years. Twenty-five of the brokers were for-profit corporations. The other nine were structured as nonprofits, including Donor Services – the only broker Reuters could find that still doubles as a funeral home.
Colorado does not regulate body brokers. It is also the only state that doesn’t license funeral directors. Funeral homes are required to register with the state, but spokesman Rasizer said the regulatory affairs department is not authorized to inspect mortuaries. It only investigates a funeral home if a complaint is filed, he said.
At Sunset Mesa, Hess charged $1,995 for a simple burial and $695 for a basic cremation, according to price lists reviewed by Reuters. Extra charges are assessed if a body is embalmed or a funeral director is involved.
At Donor Services, her body parts business, Hess can generate a greater return on the dead, a different price list reviewed by Reuters showed.
DOUBLE DUTY: Megan Hess operates both a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, and a body broker business, Donor Services. Reuters could find no other active operation in the United States that houses those businesses in the same facility and under the same ownership. REUTERS/Rick Wilking