A 98-year-old man who died of COVID-19 was dissected in front of a live, paying audience allegedly without his family's consent.
David Saunders' body was used in an autopsy demonstration during a cadaver class held in the ballroom of a Marriott hotel in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 17, KING 5 reported. The pay-to-view dissection was part of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo, which travels across the country.
The class' 70 attendees were charged between $100 to $500 per ticket and watched retired anatomy professor Dr. Colin Henderson remove Saunders' organs over the course of several hours.
Both Saunders' family and the funeral director who handled his body said they were unaware that the deceased man's corpse would be used in such a manner.
"It makes me really feel saddened that this gentleman was not given the dignity and the respect that he deserved and what he thought and his family thought that would be happening to his body," Mike Clark, a funeral director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was quoted as saying.
Clark had handled the preparation for Saunders' body as it was handed off to Med Ed Labs — a private Las Vegas-based company that solicits body donations purportedly for medical and scientific research.
The COVID-19 victim's family thought the company would use the corpse for medical research, but it ended up becoming the centerpiece of an autopsy and dissection held in front of a live, paying audience.
"I was totally horrified. 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," said Clark, whose funeral home has since stopped working with Med Ed Labs.
Med Ed Labs had sold the corpse to Oddities and Curiosities Expo organizer Death Science, but the former allegedly never told Saunders' family that his remains would be used in a public autopsy.
However, DeathScience.org founder Jeremy Ciliberto claimed to KING 5 that the donor and his family gave consent and that the event's goal "was to create an educational experience for individuals who have an interest in learning more about human anatomy."
"I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research," said Ciliberto.
Med Ed Labs administrator Obteen Nassiri, meanwhile, claimed that Ciliberto was "beyond" dishonest in his dealings with his company and that the organizer allegedly claimed he would use Saunders' body for a medical class.
"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," Nassiri said.
The administrator could not explain why he supplied a COVID-19-infected donor to a client, but he said his company usually checks that out, according to the outlet. Saunders' death certificate indicated that he died of COVID-19.
Nassiri has reportedly spoken with the family and said Med Ed Labs was "taking full responsibility and assuming full costs for the return of the body to the family for cremation."
"We understand that this event has caused undue stress for the family and we apologize for that," Nassiri said.
Detectives consulted with prosecutors and determined no laws had been broken, a spokesman for Portland police said.