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US pay-to-view autopsy organizer defends $500 event

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Tickets for the event cost up to $500, and attendees were promised the chance to get 'up close and personal' with the cadaver./AFP
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Nov 04, 2021 - 06:22 AM

LOS ANGELES — The organizer of a pay-to-view autopsy in the United States defended the event Wednesday, after an outcry by the family of the dead man who did not know he would be dissected in front of a live audience.

Around 70 people forked over up to $500 each to watch in person an anatomist cut up the body of 98-year-old David Saunders in a hotel ballroom in Oregon last month.

Over the course of several hours, Saunders’ organs — including his brain — were removed by Dr. Colin Henderson, a retired professor of anatomy, in a procedure he said he had performed frequently during his teaching career, local broadcaster King 5 reported.

Video filmed by the channel shows audience members donning surgical gloves and appearing to touch the body.

“It was very educational,” the outlet quoted an attendee named Monica as saying. “It was very respectful to the person that donated their body.”

The event was organized by Death Science, which calls itself “an independent education platform that works with educators to teach beyond the classroom.”

Tickets for the double-header event said the morning would be “a forensic autopsy on a full human cadaver.”

That would be followed in the afternoon by “a formal anatomical dissection (which) will offer us a unique look at what is under our skin, through our bodies and how it all works together.”

“There will be several opportunities for attendees to get an up-close-and-personal look at the cadaver,” the ticketing page said. “Cadaver access before, after and during breaks.”

In a statement to AFP, Death Science founder Jeremy Ciliberto said the aim of the event “was to create an educational experience for individuals who have an interest in learning more about human anatomy.”

No laws broken 

King 5 reported that family of the dead man had no idea his body would be cut up in front of a paying audience.

The news outlet cited the Louisiana funeral director who handled the corpse as saying the family thought it would be used for medical research when it was passed on to Med Ed Labs, a company that solicits corpse donation for “the advancement of medicine and science,” according to its website.

Bodies donated for medical science, typically to universities that train medical professionals, are cremated after use and the ashes are returned to next-of-kin. The process removes burial and other costs typically incurred with a funeral.

Ciliberto said his company was not privy to any agreement between the dead man’s family and Med Ed Labs, but that the company had confirmed to him “that the provided cadaver was donated for research, medical and educational purposes.”

Obteen Nassiri of Med Ed Labs told AFP his company had been unaware of the commercial audience for the autopsy-dissection, and would not have provided the cadaver if they had known.

“We were under the impression this donor would be used to train students interested in science, paramedics, medical examiners, coroners offices in anatomical dissections and the study of the human body,” he said.

Nassiri said he had spoken with the family. “We’re taking full responsibility and assuming full costs for the return of the body to the family for cremation.”

Ciliberto said while he had no further pay-per-view autopsies scheduled at this time, he would take “additional steps” in future collaborations.

“We understand that this event has caused undue stress for the family and we apologize for that,” he said.

A spokesman for police in Portland, where the event took place, said detectives had consulted with prosecutors and determined no laws had been broken.

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