In late August, David Saunders, a 98-year-old decorated World War II veteran from Louisiana, died of COVID, and his widow, Elsie, tried to donate his body to LSU for science, though the university refused due to his COVID status. Through a Baton Rouge funeral home, she found another company that arranged for his body to be used for medical research, per the Advocate—and just this week found out that "research" involved Saunders' corpse being dissected in what KING 5 calls a "pay-per-view autopsy" in front of a live audience, with some viewers forking over up to $500 to attend.
KING 5 first broke the story of the Oct. 17 event in Portland, Ore., which took place in a Marriott hotel as part of an "Oddities and Curiosities Expo" sponsored by a company called Death Science. The full-day event promised a forensic autopsy and dissection of a human cadaver, with the chance for attendees "to get an up close and personal look at the cadaver," per the Advocate. And that's exactly what happened, with video from the event showing retired anatomy professor Colin Henderson performing the dissection and pulling organs out, with audience members poking and prodding Saunders' body on occasion.
Attendees say the procedure was "very respectful," but that's not how an investigator from the Multnomah County Medical Examiner's office feels, or Saunders' widow. "It's horrible, unethical, and I just don't have the words to describe it," Elsie Saunders tells the Advocate. She adds, per NBC News: "I didn't know he was going to be ... put on display like a performing bear." Obteen Nassiri, the manager for Med Ed Labs, the company that Elsie Saunders was connected with via the funeral home, says his firm believed the cadaver would be used for a medical class and not a ticketed spectacle. Death Science founder Jeremy Ciliberto, however, tells KING 5 and NBC he had the OK from Med Ed, which knew tickets would be sold and that attendees wouldn't necessarily be med students.
As for the issues surrounding Saunders' COVID status, Nassiri says the body was tested before the event, with a negative result. He has since apologized to Elsie Saunders, noting "we should have ... done more investigative research" into Death Science's plans, per NBC. Meanwhile, the owner of Clark Funeral Services says he's disgusted with what happened and will no longer work with Med Ed. The latter company once more has possession of Saunders' remains, which Nassiri says will be cremated and sent back to his family. A second similar event had been scheduled for Halloween in Seattle but was canceled, per KING 5. (Read more autopsy stories.)