After Body of Louisiana WWII Veteran Dissected for Paid Hearing, Ethical and Legal Issues Abound | New
When Elsie Saunders signed a contract saying her late husband wanted his body donated to science after his August death from COVID-19, she had good reason to believe her wishes would be granted.
The contract seemed legitimate: it contained the word âmedicalâ nine times, as well as five references to âresearchâ and four to âeducationâ.
The correspondence with the company also seemed flawless. âThank you for contacting us regarding the very generous donation of your husband’s body for medical, scientific, surgical and educational research,â a Las Vegas-based Med Ed Labs staff member told Widow by email the day after David Saunders passed away. “Our donation program helps our future medical teams and others.”
Elsie Saunders was shocked to discover earlier this week that the body had actually been dissected for a paying audience at a Marriott hotel ballroom in Portland, Oregon. She said she felt grossly misled.
After a decorated Louisiana World War II veteran died of COVID-19 in August, his widow attempted to make his wishes come true by donating his body to …
David Saunders, a decorated WWII and Korean War veteran who died at age 98 after battling COVID at a hospital in Zachary, has long wanted to donate his remains to the advancement of science and medicine his wife told The Advocate this week. She said LSU was the first choice, but the university refused the donation because he tested positive for COVID.
She then connected with Med Ed and signed the contract.
“End-users may include, but are not limited to, medical device companies, universities, bioskills facilities, surgical centers, research institutes, intermediaries, other tissue banks and any other entity. approved by “Med Ed, says contract.
âThe company will at all times treat this gift with as much dignity and respect as the donation process allows and will maintain approved end users to the same standards,â the contract continued.
While the language of the contract may be broad enough to accommodate the public dissection – which costs up to $ 500 per ticket to attend – experts are raising important ethical and legal questions about the event.
Seattle TV channel KING-TV first reported on the Oct. 17 dissection – linked to the Oddities and Curiosities exhibit, which travels the country and claims to attract “lovers of the strange, the ‘quirky and bizarre’ with objects such as taxidermy, preserved specimens, horror-inspired artwork and spooky clothing. VIP customers who purchased their tickets through the traveling exhibit were seated inches from the dissection table as an anatomist spent hours sculpting the corpse and harvesting various organs.
“From a legal standpoint, it stinks of fraud,” said Hal Adkins, lawyer and spokesperson for the Saunders family. He said Elsie Saunders consented to something very different from what happened. She had no idea that her husband could end up being dismembered in front of paying customers.
Trevor Bibler, assistant professor at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine, said concerns about informed consent – a concept that often arises in various contexts, medical and otherwise – could be applied to the situation. He said the case also raises fundamental questions “about personality, our society and how we treat each other, even after death.”
A retired University of Montana professor and certified anatomist, Colin Henderson, performed the dissection. Contacted by phone this week, Henderson said the event was not an autopsy despite promotional material claiming otherwise. He declined to comment further on his take on the event.
Bibler said the distinction between educational value and entertainment value underlies the ethical considerations in this case. Consider the same procedure that goes on in a classroom at a medical school, he said.
âYou could imagine the same hands and the same body in a different room. How would that change things? ” He asked. “What could be different is the goal. It was the equivalent of going to the movies, rather than advancing American medicine.”
He also asked if a deceased person could be injured or helped.
âMost of the time when we talk about the damage done to people after death, we are not talking about them directly, but their memory and the people left behind,â he said. “These are interesting social questions that go to the heart of what it means to respect the dead.”
Elsie Saunders has said her husband is a fiercely patriotic, a proud military veteran who wants his legacy of service to continue after his death. She said the marketing of her leftovers was in direct opposition to her character.
In response to his comments and the recent backlash in the media, Med Ed officials released a statement Friday saying they had agreed to return the remains to Louisiana and “are working diligently with investigators in Portland, Ore., To ensure that there is no ongoing voyeurism or misrepresentation of essential anatomical training events in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. “
Med Ed director Obteen Nassiri also reiterated earlier claims that Death Science, the company that took the lead in the public dissection organization, had cheated on him. Nassiri said his company had “no explicit knowledge that people would pay to attend a show featuring one of our donors.”
He said he learned after the event that local forensic pathologists discovered Death Science “fraudulently presented itself as an accredited and qualified forensic college training program.”
The anatomist was also misled about the nature of his audience, which he said consisted of medical students and medical professionals, Nassiri said.
Death Science officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but released a statement earlier this week saying that Med Ed was fully aware that the body would be used for an event whose attendees were “not exclusively medical students “. Death Science founder Jeremy Ciliberto told KING-TV that he often pays more than $ 10,000 for a dead body. He called Death Science an âeducational enterpriseâ.
A spokesperson for Oddities and Curiosities Expo said the company only managed the ticketing for the dissection and was not involved in organizing the event.
Officials at Las Vegas-based Med Ed, which provided the corpse and anatomist, said the protocols were being followed according to standards applicable in medical schools and other professional settings.
Researchers have written extensively on the ethics – and the benefits – of using human cadavers to teach medicine and anatomy to medical students, often defending the practice and stressing the importance of treating specimens with the most great respect.
The practice dates back at least to ancient Greece, but it was already controversial. It largely fell into disuse throughout Europe during most of the Middle Ages, then reappeared in Italian universities during the 14th century. But donations and executions presented a supply of bodies behind demand at the time, historians say.
Looting of graves became more and more common in the 16th century, as did so-called anatomical theaters to accommodate a larger audience in universities across Europe.
“The extent of the problem can be assessed by reports of students attempting to remove corpses awaiting burial or assaulting funeral processions,” researchers wrote in a 2015 article in the journal Anatomy & Cell. Biology. “By the middle of the 16th century, there were clear signs of continuing public concern about anatomical practices in Italy.”
In the United States, human dissection followed a similar course, prompting the passage of a 1790 law allowing federal judges to add dissection to a death sentence for murder. Several decades later, Massachusetts passed laws allowing the use of unclaimed bodies for dissection, although soldiers were exempted from doing so because “they had already served the state in their lifetime,” the article.
Body donation programs have since grown in popularity around the world. However, paid public dissections are virtually unheard of in contemporary American society, experts said.
There appears to be little legal precedent for dealing with such cases, but East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he contacted prosecutors in Portland and Las Vegas after hearing from David. Saunders.
Moore said his office would support any potential lawsuit. He pointed to two Oregon laws prohibiting the abuse of a corpse and unauthorized autopsies.
âMr. Saunders gave up his body as a young man, as a soldier. Then he wanted to give back as an older man, only to have his body on display as a circus exhibit,â said Moore. “This is immoral and unethical and we have to draw the line somewhere.”