PORTLAND, Ore. — The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in Portland, Ore., has unanimously decided to ban the for-profit display of human remains.
The move came Thursday after the body of a Louisiana World War II veteran – whose wife believed he had donated her body to science – was dissected in front of a paying audience at a Portland hotel, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
The order is expected to be officially approved next week and establishes a fine of $1,000 per violation per day. County Attorney Rob Sinnott said those who violate the order must also turn over any resulting profits.
Exhibitions of human remains for “legitimate ceremonial and educational purposes” are exempt.
Kimberly DiLeo, the county’s chief forensic death investigator, led efforts to write the order after unsuccessfully trying to prevent the Oct. 17 for-profit autopsy at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.
DiLeo said she contacted the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon Medical Board, but both agencies said they had no authority to stop the event.
A Portland police spokesperson previously said detectives consulted with the Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and determined that no crime had been committed during the autopsy.
In a statement released last year, Martin McAllister, the hotel’s general manager, said his staff had been “grossly misled” about the event.
Seventy people gathered, some paying as much as $500 a ticket, to watch the autopsy of 98-year-old David Saunders, who had lived with his wife, Elsie, until his death from COVID-19. The “Cadaver Lab class” was hosted by Death Science, a media company with no professional credentials, DiLeo said.
Death Science did not immediately respond to a request from the newspaper for comment.
Elsie Saunders only learned what had happened to her husband after KING-TV released footage showing her husband’s name printed on a cuff still attached to his wrist.
Elsie Saunders said over the phone at the county meeting that she was still haunted by the images from the public autopsy.
“The vision in my mind of his defenseless naked body being dismembered like a butcher preparing an animal carcass for sale…I have to live with it until I die,” she said.
Elsie Saunders said her efforts to donate her husband’s body to Louisiana State University for medical research failed due to pandemic restrictions, so she donated it to Med Ed Labs, a Las Vegas-based company who she claims is using her body for medical research.
But, there was some “ambiguity” in the contract she signed, according to East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, who also spoke at the meeting by phone.
Med Ed Labs spokesperson Obteen Nassiri said the company was told the body would be used to train people involved in the sciences of death and was unaware that tickets were being sold to attend the event. ‘event.
Since the dissection, Med Ed Labs has taken “very extreme precautions” to protect the identities of their donors and screen their clients more strictly to ensure they are “legitimate,” Nassiri said.
Moore said he accompanied David Saunders’ nephew to identify the body after it was returned to the Baton Rouge morgue. In her experience of attending thousands of autopsies, Moore said the body was not treated the way any body is treated at a legitimate autopsy.
“It was completely different and separate in a very macabre way from all the other autopsies going on,” he said.
Moore said he was appalled that there are few restrictions in Oregon and Louisiana preventing for-profit autopsies. He hopes to introduce a similar ordinance in Baton Rouge.
At the meeting, Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann asked about criminal penalties for order violators.
“I would urge that we make this a criminal issue and talk to our state legislators, our other counties, so that a family never has to go through this again,” Stegmann said. “It really is a violation of our humanity.”