The body of a man who died of COVID-19 was dissected in front of a live audience, family says they did not give consent
In the paid event called “Cadaver Class,” attendees paid up to $500 (about P25,000) to watch a “formal autopsy” and get an up-close and personal look at the cadaver.
The 98-year-old World War II veteran, David Saunders, registered to donate his body for medical research at the Louisiana State University (LSU). But when he died recently of COVID-19, his body was not accepted by LSU.
Saunders’ family told King 5 News that his body was prepared by a funeral director in Louisiana and then handed off to Med Ed Labs, a private company in Las Vegas that solicits body donations for medical research.
Naturally, the family expected that Saunders’ body would be used for medical research, instead, it became a spectacle at a “Cadaver Class” in Portland, Oregon that was part of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo, a traveling event.
The Cadaver Class was organized by Death Science founder Jeremy Ciliberto, whose company bought Saunders’ body from Med Ed Labs.
According to the event’s website, attendees of the three-hour “workshop” had to pay up to $500 (about P25,000) to “observe a forensic autopsy on a full human cadaver.” Medical professionals guided the formal autopsy.
A King 5 News photojournalist went undercover to the event and discovered the autopsy event was exactly as advertised.
In the video, people are seen getting in a ballroom, in the center of which is a table with a figure on it draped with a white cloth. According to the report, those who paid $500 were the ones seated in the front row, a few inches from the table.
The autopsy was then performed by a retired anatomy professor, who explained to the attendees that the procedure was the same type of what he had taught to students during his career. The autopsy involved cutting the corpse’s chest cavity, head and limbs, and removing organs.
The video also showed some attendees going near the body, which was one of the inclusions of the fee—getting access to the cadaver before, after and during breaks.
The photojournalist observed a medical-type bracelet on the cadaver’s wrist with the name “David Saunders” on it.
Upon learning that Saunders died of COVID-19, organizers of the event reportedly e-mailed those present at the live event to get tested for COVID-19 as a precaution. (According to the Center for Disease Control, the risk of infection from a cadaver is low.)
It was also through the report that the family of Saunders learned about what happened to their patriarch’s body. “I think it’s reprehensible,” Saunders’ 92-year-old widow, Elsie, told King 5 News. “I think that they are using my husband’s body like he’s a performing bear or something.”
An administrator of Med Ed Labs spoke with the news outfit and said Jeremy Ciliberto was dishonest about how Saunders’ body was going to be used, claiming that it would be for a medical class.
Meanwhile, Ciliberto, who is known for his love for the macabre as seen in his social media, YouTube channel and podcast, said Med Ed Labs confirmed that the family of the deceased was made aware of the plans for the cadavers that he bought from them. He said the event was professional and educational and it "allows the students to explore the body in a much more intimate way" and it de-stigmatizes death.
Ciliberto also hit on Med Ed Labs for not disclosing that the cadaver was of a man who died from COVID-19 and is potentially infectious.
King 5 News’ report prompted the cancellation of a second event, which was set in Seattle, Washington on Halloween as the Multnomah County medical examiner's office stepped in. The office was initially told that the event was for a medical equipment training but through the Death Sciences website, it was eventually discovered that the event was more than that. Chief medical death investigator Kimberly DiLeo said, “We feel that this was not respectful and certainly not ethical."
As of this writing, Saunders’ body is yet to be found. The Louisiana funeral home that handled the body before it was handed over to Med Ed Labs said it would help track down Saunders’ remains, cremate them for free and bring them back to his family.