What Really Happens to Bodies Donated to Science?

It's not always great...

(Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GettyImages)
(Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GettyImages)
AFP/Getty Images
By Bonnie Stiernberg / August 7, 2019 11:14 am

When a body is donated to science, we naturally assume it’ll be used for medical research. But gruesome new details from a lawsuit filed against Arizona’s Biological Resource Center reveal that’s not always the case.

Jim Stauffer is one of several plaintiffs suing the center. After an FBI raid of the facility in 2014, he discovered his mother’s body — which had been donated specifically for the purpose of Alzheimer’s research—was instead blown up by the military against his wishes to test the effects of explosives.

“A detonation took place underneath her to basically kind of get an idea of what the human body goes through when a vehicle is hit by an IED,” Stauffer told Phoenix’s ABC 15. “There was actually wording on this paperwork about performing this stuff, performing these medical tests that may involve explosions, and we said no. We checked the ‘no’ box on all that.” 

The FBI raid also revealed other horrific details about bodies at the center, including heads, limbs and male genitalia being stored in coolers and sold for profit. In an affidavit, agent Mark Cwymar recalled seeing a man’s body with a woman’s head sewn onto it in “a Frankenstein manner” hanging on a wall as a “morbid joke.”

The case has sparked calls for more legislation. Unlike organ donation, which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, whole-body donation remains largely unregulated.

“This is a national problem,” Stauffer’s attorney Michael Burg told the Huffington Post. “We believe that this is going on in not only the cases that we have, but we believe that it’s something that’s been going on in the darkness for a long time.”

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