The widow of a 98-year-old grandfather who died of COVID-19 was shocked to find out her late husband was cut open in front of a live audience at an “Oddities and Curiosities” event.
The body of David Saunders from Louisiana was dissected before a paying crowd in the conference room of a Marriott hotel in Portland, Oregon on October 17. The event saw a retired professor of anatomy dissect the body with a surgical knife, removing various organs and the brain, and explaining the procedure to the audience.
An undercover journalist from Seattle news outlet KING5 covertly filmed the event and identified the person by medical tag on their wrist. Although Saunders’ body was donated to science and medical research, his family were unaware his body was being used for a commercial event where the public pay up to $500 to view a live autopsy. His widow Elsie was shocked and upset by the revelation.
“It’s horrible what has happened to my husband,” Elsie Saunders, the man's widow, told NBC News. “I didn’t know he was going to be… put on display like a performing bear or something.
"I only consented to body donations for scientific purposes. That’s the way my husband wanted it. To say the least, I'm upset," she added.
Another event scheduled to take place in Seattle has since been canceled.
Funeral directors passed the body of Saunders onto Med Ed Labs, a private Las Vegas company that solicits body donations for “medical and surgical research, education, and training,” not knowing it would be used for this kind of event. Mike Clark, one of the funeral directors, reportedly said: “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.”
While in the hands of Med Ed Labs, the body was then sold for over $10,000 to Jeremy Ciliberto, the founder of DeathScience.org, who partnered with the Oddities and Curiosities Expo to run the autopsy event.
Ciliberto promoted the shows on TikTok, describing them as an “educational event” that's a "great opportunity for students, professionals, and anyone interested in pursuing a career path in forensics, mortuary, or the medical fields.” He also claimed that Med Ed Labs was aware of his plans for the corpses he purchased and obtained the appropriate consent.
The death certificate of Saunders explains that he died of COVID-19, which raised fears that the dissection could have put audience members at risk of infection. However, Ciliberto denies this would be a concern, claiming that serology tests performed on the body showed no risk of COVID-19 infection
“This is not a sideshow,” Ciliberto told KING5. “This is very professional.”
“I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research," added Ciliberto.
Med Ed has a different view of the situation, however. They argue that Ciliberto was “beyond” dishonest regarding his intentions for the corpses, claiming they were being used for a medical class.
So-called “body broking,” businesses that assist people with donating their bodies to science, is a largely unregulated industry in the US and a number of controversies regarding the industry have been exposed in recent years. In 2018, a Detroit businessman was sentenced to jail for selling diseased human body parts to customers, some of which were infected with HIV or hepatitis. In another unrelated incident, FBI agents raided a body-donation company in Arizona, discovering a warehouse containing a refrigerator filled with penises, buckets of limbs, pools of blood, and a human head sewn onto another body “in a ‘Frankenstein’ manner.”