Following the body of a World War II veteran whose wife thought she donated his body to science was found on Thursday by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously moved on Thursday to prohibit for-profit display of human remains.
According to county attorney Rob Sinnott, the county ordinance, which is expected to be passed on April 21, imposes a $1,000 fine per violation per day, which is the greatest amount public health authorities can demand. Those who violate the ordinance must pay for any resulting profit, and the county may pay the expenses it incurs while enforcing the ordinance, according to Sinnott.
Sinnott claims that displays of human remains for "legitimate ceremonial and educational purposes" such as those found at funeral homes and accredited colleges are exempt.
Kimberly DiLeo, the county's primary medicolegal death investigator, led efforts to draft the ordinance after unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the for-profit autopsy at the Portland Marriott Waterfront on October 17th.
DiLeo said she contacted the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon Medical Board before the public dissection, but that both agencies denied that they had the authority to prohibit the event. DiLeo said she also asked hotel officials to cancel the event, but they went ahead despite her concerns.
A Portland police spokesperson told The Oregonian/OregonLive that detectives worked with the Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon State Police, and the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office and determined that no crimes were committed during the autopsy.
In a statement last year, Martin McAllister, the hotel's general manager, stated that his staff was "grossly misled" about the event's nature.
Seventy people gathered outside the hotel meeting room, some paying up to $500 a ticket, to watch David Saunders' autopsy, which he lived in Louisiana with his 92-year-old wife, Elsie, until he died of the coronavirus. DiLeo said the "Cadaver Lab Class" was owned by a media company that has no professional credentials.
Death Science did not respond to a request for comment immediately.
"No family should bear the horror or guilt of discovering that their loved one was displayed on display for paying members of the public to autopsy and touch their organs in a hotel ballroom," DiLeo said.
Elsie Saunders didn't know what happened to her husband until after the video revealed his name on an arm band still attached to his wrist. A video showing a person wearing only wrist-length gloves, a face mask, and glasses handling David Saunders' body.
Attendees are shown standing at the operating table as many people gather together, and one attendee wearing only rubber gloves and a face mask is shown leaning over the cadaver and touching it.
Elsie Saunders, who appeared before the county council on the telephone, said she is still haunted by the public autopsy's photographs.
"I have to live with it until I die," says the owner of the naked and defenseless body, who was demolished as a butcher. "I cannot only hope and pray that another family never goes through this nightmare."
Elsie Saunders said she initially tried to donate her husband's body to Louisiana State University for medical research, but that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented her. She then donated her husband's body to Med Ed Labs, a Las Vegas-based company she believed would fund his research.
The contract she signed was somewhat ambiguous, according to the district attorney Hillar Moore, who called in to speak during the meeting.
According to Med Ed Labs spokesperson Obteen Nassiri, the body was told to train people involved in death sciences, including morticians, coroners, and medical students, and there was no evidence of tickets being sold to assist the event.
Med Ed Labs has taken "very strict steps" to protect their donors' identities, including transitioning from name tags to identification numbers. It also monitors its clients more strictly to ensure they're "legitimate," according to Nassiri.
'This was a very distressing incident that a business used our donors and our services to increase their economic goals,' said Nassiri.
Moore said he followed David Saunders' nephew to identify the body after it was returned from Portland to a Baton Rouge morgue. In his first experiences attending thousands of autopsies, he said he had never seen a body treated as David Saunders' during the public dissection.
"To see what happened to this hero's body... this body was not treated like any body was taken in any legitimate autopsy," Moore said. "This was completely different and distinct in a very macabre manner than any other autopsies being conducted."
Moore said he was shocked to learn that there were no restrictions on for-profit automobiles in Oregon and Louisiana. He now hopes to enact a similar ordinance in Baton Rouge.
Moore said that you would think that we don't need this legislation. "It would be common opinion that this would not be permitted. We've been uncovered wrong."
Tamara Ostervoss, the director of body donation at Oregon Health & Science University, said the absence of protections for whole body donors leads to "disreputable practices" by those who want to profit from their bodies. Events such as the one held in October damage the public's trust in body donation programs and hinder the education of health care students.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who is a certified physician, described the treatment of David Saunders' body as "shocking" and asked if future ordinance violations might be considered, a Class B violation in Oregon.
Commissioner Lori Stegmann asked how to take penal sanctions against ordinance violators.
I would like to make this a criminal situation, and that we talk to our state legislators, our other counties, so that a family never has to do it again, Stegmann said. It is truly a violation of our humanity.
-Catalina Gaitan; follow them on Twitter @catalinagaitan.