The body of a man who died of COVID-19 was reportedly dissected in front of a paying audience at an event last month without his family’s knowledge.
According to a KING 5 News investigation, the family of David Saunders, 98, expected his corpse to be used for medical research after it was prepared by a funeral director who then handed it off to a private company. However, Saunders’ family recently learned that the body was dissected at a public, for-profit event in the conference room of the Portland Marriott hotel in Oregon on Oct. 17.
The so-called “Cadaver Class” was organized by a group called Death Science, which offers education about “scientific fields and topics that relate to the deceased.” Death Science, which has more than 1.1 million followers on TikTok, posts a range of quirky content about deaths, autopsies, crime scenes, fossils and more.
The “Cadaver Class” was part of the traveling Oddities and Curiosities Expo. According to the event page, attendees would observe a formal forensic autopsy followed by an anatomical dissection in order to “find new perspectives on how the human body can tell a story.”
“There will be several opportunities for attendees to get an up close and personal look at the cadaver,” the event description said. “Cadaver access before, after and during breaks.”
Saunders’ widow reportedly learned about how her late husband’s body was used via a KING 5 report last week questioning the ethics of the event. A photojournalist from the news outlet observed Saunders’ name on a medical bracelet.
The report prompted the cancellation of a second Cadaver Class that was scheduled in Seattle for Halloween after the chief death investigator in Portland intervened.
Mike Clark, the funeral director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana who handled the preparation of Saunders’ body, told KING 5 he and his staff were horrified by what happened.
“Our whole staff was horrified that this is what had happened to a gentleman that he and his family thought that his body was going for the advancement of medical students,” Clark said.
He also noted that his funeral home would no longer work with Med Ed Labs, the company that received the body.
Med Ed Labs, which bills itself as an organization for the advancement of medical and surgical education, said on its website that its whole body donation program allows donors to advance medical research and education.
“We have an inherent respect for both individuals both living and deceased and commit ourselves to compassionate care with the highest ethical standards,” it said.
A Med Ed Labs administrator told KING 5 that the founder of Death Science, Jeremy Ciliberto, had been dishonest in his dealings with Med Ed Labs, and had claimed the body would be used for a medical class. The administrator was reportedly unable to explain why a COVID-19 victim was donated to an event where people were invited to get close to the body.
Ciliberto said the donor’s family did give consent, that Med Ed was aware of his plans for the cadavers he purchased and that the event was entirely professional.
“I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research,” Ciliberto told KING 5.
Kimberly DiLeo, the chief medical death investigator for the Multnomah County, Oregon Medical Examiner, said she was told by a Med Ed supervisor that they were unaware the corpse would be used in such a manner.