Elsie Saunders was mourning the death of her husband when she experienced some unexpected trauma. Her husband’s body was used in a live “autopsy show” where audience members paid $100 or more to watch his remains get dissected.
Even though Saunders agreed to donate her husband’s body to science, she says she never would’ve allowed him to be used as live entertainment.
Paying for Cadavers
Saunders, 92, remembers the last time she saw her husband, David Saunders, 98, alive. In August, he died of complications related to COVID-19 at a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Saunders says his body was taken to a local funeral home.
Mike Clark, the director of the funeral home who was responsible for preparing Saunders’ body, says neither he nor the family knew what would take place.
Records show her husband’s body was later acquired by a company known as Med Ed Labs. According to the website, the company describes itself as working with medical device companies for medical and surgical research, education, and training.
Company manager Obteen Nassiri says the family gave permission for his company to obtain the body and use it for medical purposes. He says that’s what the company was doing when it sold Saunders’ body to another company, Death Science.
Death Science promoted an event on Oct 17 in Portland, Oregon as part of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo. It featured a live autopsy of David Saunders’ body with audience members sitting just inches from the table.
Elsie Saunders was mortified when she heard the news.
“I didn’t know he was going to be … put on display like a performing bear or something,” Saunders said of her husband, who is also a World War II Army veteran. “I only consented to body donations for scientific purposes. That’s the way my husband wanted it. To say the least, I’m upset.”
“It makes me really feel saddened that this gentleman was not given the dignity and the respect that he deserved and what he thought and his family thought that would be happening to his body,” said Clark.
“I was totally horrified,” he added. “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.”
Nassiri says he wasn’t aware of the event when he sold the body to Death Science.
“We didn’t know about the Curiosity Expo at all,” Nassiri said. ”I would not be involved in anything like that.”
However, Death Science says that’s not exactly true.
“Med Ed Labs was aware of the course,” the company said in an email. “Death Science partnered with Med Ed Labs and it was in direct contact with Med Ed Lab, specifically, Obteen Nassiri for multiple months leading up to the course, including, but not limited to, the fact that attendees are not exclusively medical students and ticket sales.”
Putting on a Show
Death Science defines itself as an “educational company specializing in the promotion of in-person and online courses, events, and seminars related to death science for the general public and industry professionals.”
A spokesperson for the company added, “an anatomical dissection of a full human cadaver” occurred on Oct 17, and “Death Science’s medical professional partners guided participants through a formal autopsy.”
Around 70 people attended the event, with guests paying between $100 and $500 per ticket.
The local police captain weighed in on whether Saunders can press charges against the company. He said there could be room for civil suits, but there are “no criminal laws which directly speak to such circumstances.”
Experts have also criticized both companies for moving and displaying a body that’s been exposed to COVID-19, which could lead to more infections.
The Curiosity Expo has also come under fire. An event in Seattle was recently cancelled due to the backlash.
Kimberly DiLeo, the chief medical death investigator for the Multnomah County, Oregon Medical Examiner, said, “We feel that this was not respectful and certainly not ethical.” However, she defended the event as an educational experience and the attendees insisted everything was handled professionally during the demonstration.
Nassiri later apologized to Saunders and said the company should have done more research into how Death Science planned to use the body.
“We should have been more arduous and done more investigative research to find out exactly what they were doing,” he said.
Nassiri says the body has been returned to his company. He expects it will be cremated and returned to the family in the “short future”.