In this era of technological advances, modern medicine has reached new pinnacles of treatment. New methods of surgery that would have amazed physicians from a century ago are now considered routine.
These routine surgeries include total hip and/or knee replacement. In fact, I have personally known four people who have had one or the other — all of which were successful. Thankfully, with the advent of these miracle operations, modern medicine has also been able to provide us with new wonder drugs for fighting infection, the treatment of pain, and alternatives for treating a variety of other ailments.
However, while these patients are now able to live relatively pain-free lives, what is to become of these implants that are inserted when they are no longer needed?
One pioneer into this realm is a company known as Ortho Metals. Its goal is to cash in on this arena by picking up and then recycling the implants from the remains of people who have been cremated. The company’s mission statement indicates that it has three objectives:
- First and foremost is that there is a need to recycle previously implanted devices. This process is initiated after the cremation process is complete and the metals are retrieved by funeral parlor personal for recycling. Once the implants are removed, the family of the deceased is then asked if they would like to have them returned. While this may seem bizarre, a family may need them in a court of law to prove medical error or the failure of a particular implant. Rarely, however, does the family opt for having the implant returned, so it is normally recycled along with other metal parts from the casket.
- To free the deceased family from yet one more obligation during their time of mourning. The company states that, in this way, the family can then concentrate on taking care of their loved one knowing that the implant will be properly disposed of and not require any further intervention by the family.
- Last, the proceeds from the recycling effort will become a part of a benevolent fund and the proceeds will be donated to charitable organizations.
So, while the mission statement sounds promising, there is another side that leaves one wondering why these recycled implants only generate revenue for the scrap metal in them and doesn’t take into account the original cost of the implant. As an example, a titanium or cobalt chromium hip implant device may originally have cost patients or their insurance companies $2,700, yet as scrap metal may only generate about $4 in precious metal. (These are estimates, only.)
Some of the pros of recycling implants are:
- Recycling is good for the environment. These particular products use valuable precious metals that, once sterilized, can be remanufactured into new implants.
- The used implants will not take up valuable landfill space and, if later they are determined to be environmentally hazardous, costly clean-up efforts will not be necessitated.
- These efforts will provide a viable means of disposal for funeral homes when family members have no use for implants and aren’t sure of how to dispose of them.
- If, in fact, the company plans on donating the proceeds, it will provide much needed revenue to local charities.
Some of the cons of recycling implants are:
- The uncertainty on the part of family members, during their time of grief, about the proper way to respond to such a request. It is nearly the same as being asked to donate a loved one’s organs except, in this case, the parts are being sold as scrap metal.
- Another issue is that there are unscrupulous businesses out there and, given the current lack of laws/regulations surrounding this issue, one has to ask who is going to monitor these businesses. It will also be essential to spell out, like it is for funeral homes, what is expected in order to provide dignity to the deceased while the implants are handled by recyclers.
- Last, how are other family members, friends, or acquaintances going to respond when told that the implants are to be recycled and will not remain with the deceased?
Ortho Metals is not the only company providing such services. Another investor in the recycling of implants out of Detroit, Michigan is Implant Recycling LLC. This company’s unique services include providing a pre-paid shipping container that any funeral home can use to collect the implants. The services further provide the cost of shipping back to the recycling facility. On its website, Implant Recycling LLC also explains, free of charge, the legality of recycling implants and provides free consultation with its legal representative. In addition, the company provides clear and extensive instruction on both its obligations and on the responsibilities of the funeral home in terms of how the implants are to be handled including:
- The company will provide and deliver free shipping containers to the funeral home.
- Once the container is filled, the funeral home may choose to lock the container prior to shipping.
- The company will then pay for the cost of shipping the implants back to its facility.
- Once received, the contents of the implants are weighed and a check is generated to the funeral home or a designated charity within 30 days.
For some who read this, the subject material may side on the macabre; for others, like myself, it is just another facet of life. After all, isn’t death just another part of life?