When our loved ones pass away, we want their memory and legacy to be respected. They made major, lasting impact on our lives, ones we wouldn't want tarnished or overshadowed. After all, now that they're no longer with us, we'd rather remain at peace with what we know of them so we can hold them in a warm place in our hearts.
Unfortunately, if there's ever a moment where we relinquish the remains of those who have died, we can no longer control what happens to them, nor can we know where in the world they'll end up.
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Our Final Destinations
There are a number of ways we can choose to honor our loved ones when they pass, but the most respectful of them all is to fulfill their final wishes, whatever they may be. This includes how they want their body to be handled.
Some are happy to be buried in a plot in a cemetery near other family members, while others wish to be cremated and have their ashes scattered in their favorite place.
There are also those who want their bodies donated to science with the hopes that their death can further research in medical fields. That's exactly what one man was hoping his body would go toward in his passing; no one was able to predict the chaos that would ensue.
A Life Well-Lived
David Saunders, a decorated veteran who served in both WWII and the Korean War, passed away at the age of 98 in 2021. He had wished that his body would be donated to science after his passing, a wish that his wife, Elsie Saunders, was happy to fulfill.
Little did she know that her late husband's body would wind up somewhere she never could have expected, somewhere that would spark outrage not only within the Saunders family but across the internet too.
Changing Of Hands
His body was given to Med Ed Labs, which is a for-profit company that provides training facilities for those in the medical field, as well as the distribution of said training materials. This does mean they're involved in the medical distribution of human remains when acquired.
Med Ed Labs then sold the body to Jeremy Ciliberto, founder of a company called Death Science. Death Science was most known for its TikTok account, to which Jeremy would post a number of educational videos about the decomposition process of corpses, forensic science, and various macabre artworks of his to over 1 million followers.
For Watching Eyes
Death Science then brought that body to the Oddities and Curiosities Expo in Portland, Oregon. The expo advertises various unique and unearthly vendors of things such as taxidermy, antique medical devices, animal bones, funeral collectibles, and the like. They also host a number of curio exhibits and events within the expo.
One of the events they hosted—while partnered with Death Science—was a live public dissection of a human cadaver. David Saunders was that very cadaver, his family having no idea that his body would be used for entertainment like this.
They were also not made aware that this event would be for-profit, with tickets for the dissection being sold for $100 to $500 a piece and live-streamed for those who couldn't come to the expo in person.
The procedure lasted three hours and was conducted by retired anatomy professor Colin Henderson. He used a surgical knife to open David's body in front of the watching crowd, removing a number of his organs, including his brain. He also invited audience members to come up and prod at the remains.
Too Little, Too Late
Elsie didn't find out about the event until it was too late. It wasn't until Seattle news channel King5 contacted her after sending an undercover reporter to the event. That report noted the name on the body's identification tag and decided to track down his remaining family, with Elsie being the first contact to turn up.
She was devastated and appalled to learn what happened to her late husband. "I have all this paperwork that says his body would be used for science—nothing about this commercialization of his death," she told Baton Rouge's The Advocate.
Not Their Problem
"As far as I'm concerned, it’s horrible, unethical and I just don’t have the words to describe it," she continued.
All the people and organizations involved in the ordeal have come forward to make a statement about what happened, all shirking responsibility.
First is the Oddities & Curiosities Expo. They claimed that they didn't actually host the event and made no profit from it, stating that they only "provide[d] a ticketing platform for Death Science, which was the proprietor of the class," adding that "the cadaver class has never been a part of the traveling expo."
They also said, "This was absolutely NOT an entertainment style demonstration. It was an educational event geared toward students, professionals, and those interested in a career in this field."
Starting The Lies
Then there's Med Ed Labs, who claimed that Death Science was "beyond" dishonest about what the body would be used for. "We had no idea that they would use it at an oddities expo[...]," Obteen Nassiri, an administrator for Med Ed Labs, told The Independent.
Death Science's founder Jeremy, however, fought back against this claim. "I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research," he said. "Med Ed Labs provided the cadaver, supplied the anatomist (the individual who instructed/conducted the class), tools and equipment for the procedure, a completed serology report, booked the venue for the course, and was responsible for the handling of the cadaver before, during and after the event."
Med Ed Labs then said that they were unaware tickets would be sold for the event, which Jeremy also denied. He explained that the two companies had been in touch for months prior, discussing things "including, but not limited to, the fact that the attendees are not exclusively medical students and ticket sales."
Not only that, but the two were also working together for a second event, in which they would provide a cadaver for a Halloween dissection class also in Seattle. That event was canceled after the fallout from the expo event.
For what it's worth, Jeremy was extremely apologetic about causing Elsie such distress. He never wanted to use a body in a way that is against a family's wishes. "We respect our donors and their families, and appreciate their generous gift. I told Ms. Saunders I'm sorry, I’m on her side."
"My goal was to create an educational experience for individuals who have an interest in learning more about human anatomy. We understand that this event has caused undue stress for the family and we apologize for that."
Lack Of Respect
Mike Clark, the director of Church Funeral Services and Crematory, the funeral home that originally treated David's body, also spoke up. He said, "It makes me really feel saddened that this gentlemen 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."
Med Ed Labs has offered to cover the transport of David's body back to the funeral home, who has then offered to cremate and return his remains to Elsie free of charge.
Death Science's social media accounts appear to have largely gone dark since late 2021.
Out Of The Blue
With so many contradicting stories, it seems impossible to know the reality of the situation. Who's lying? Who's telling the truth? At the end of it all, does that distinction really matter?
It appears to have been a lesson learned by all those involved, and with David's remains being returned to his wife so she can decide what to do with him, the future of it couldn't be in better hands.
Life is filled with unexpected, wild situations you would never even think to consider, a fact that extends after death as well.
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