Published: November 5, 2021

-ARS Technica


A Louisiana widow is left horrified at the news that her deceased husband was dissected in front of a live, paying audience after she donated his body to scientific research.

Elsie Saunders had carried out the wishes of her late husband, David Saunders, who wanted his body donated to help advance medical science, according to The Advocate. David Saunders, a World War II and Korean War veteran, died of COVID-19 on August 24 at the age of 98. Donating his body was his last act of patriotism, Elsie Saunders said.

But instead of being delivered to a research facility, David Saunders’ body ended up in a Marriott Hotel ballroom in Portland, Oregon, where held an “Oddities and Curiosities Expo.” At the October 17 event, members of the public sat ringside from 9 am to 4 pm—with a break for lunch—to watch David Saunders’ body be carefully dissected. Tickets for the dissection sold for up to $500 per person.

The Advocate noted that an online description of the event read: “From the external body exam to the removal of vital organs including the brain, we will find new perspectives on how the human body can tell a story… There will be several opportunities for attendees to get an up close and personal look at the cadaver.”

“Horrible, unethical”

Elsie Saunders learned of the dissection from a Seattle-based reporter at KING 5, who was investigating the event and tracked her down. A photojournalist who attended undercover for KING 5 had noted that the body had a bracelet with the typed name “David Saunders.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s horrible, unethical, and I just don’t have the words to describe it,” Elsie Saunders told The Advocate. “I have all this paperwork that says his body would be used for science—nothing about this commercialization of his death.”

Elsie Saunders explained that she had initially tried to donate the body to Louisiana State University. But, LSU turned down the donation due to the COVID diagnosis. She then connected with a private company named Med Ed Labs in Las Vegas, which says it was “established to provide medical and surgical education and training for the advancement of medical and surgical innovation.”

Med Ed Labs subsequently sold the body to Death Science. An administrator for Med Ed Labs, Obteen Nassiri, told KING5 that founder Jeremy Ciliberto was “beyond” dishonest about how the body would be used. Nassiri said he believed Ciliberto would use the body for a medical class. Meanwhile, Ciliberto said Med Ed was fully aware that the body would be used in an event attended by people who were “not exclusively medical students.”

Elsie Saunders is now hoping to have David Saunders’ remains returned. According to KING 5, the Louisiana-based company Church Funeral Services and Crematory, which prepared David Saunders’ body before it was given to Med Ed Labs, told Elsie Saunders it would track down her husband’s remains, cremate them for free, and return them to her.

“We’re extremely sad for his widow,” Church Funeral Services owner Greg Clark told the Advocate. “This is not what her intentions were.”