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Tuesday, November 4, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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L.A. Coroner To Stop Quietly Harvesting Corneas

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles County coroner's office, responding to reports of ethical breaches and procedural lapses, announced yesterday that it would no longer routinely permit a local eye bank to harvest corneas without the permission or knowledge of surviving family members.

"The department as a whole will now take a proactive approach in making contact with families, to ensure that they're aware of any corneal removals," said Coroner Director Anthony Hernandez.

The coroner's about-face comes after the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Doheny Eye & Tissue Transplant Bank has paid substantial sums to the morgue in exchange for thousands of corneas, removed without family consent under a little-known state law.

The 14-year-old statute permits the removal of corneas if no known objections exist from next of kin. But coroners are not required to ask, a loophole that critics say has been used to an unmatched degree in Los Angeles - to the financial advantage of the coroner's office, Doheny and its management company, Tissue Banks International.

In the past two years, Doheny has paid the coroner's office between $215 and $335 for a set of corneas. The eye bank then resells them to transplant institutions for a "processing fee" of $3,400 to cover acquisition, testing, storage and distribution of the corneas. Tissue Banks International, for its part, takes a cut of the money.

During a news conference, Hernandez said that beginning today, coroner field investigators will be required to ask family whether they object to corneal removals, which are performed by Doheny's technicians.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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