GWU ac­cused of los­ing re­mains

Bod­ies misiden­ti­fied, given to wrong fam­i­lies in ca­daver pro­gram, law­suit al­leges

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com

The cre­mated re­mains of bod­ies do­nated for study at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity’s med­i­cal school — in­clud­ing two Mary­lan­ders — were misiden­ti­fied and re­turned to the wrong­fam­i­lies or buried with­out their per­mis­sion, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed Tues­day in D.C. Su­pe­rior Court.

The law­suit ac­cuses the univer­sity of “gross mis­man­age­ment” of re­search ca­dav­ers and at­tempts to con­ceal its mis­steps. Bal­ti­more at­tor­ney Cary Hansel, who is rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily mem­bers of three peo­ple who do­nated their bod­ies, asked a judge to grant class-ac­tion sta­tus to al­low more fam­i­lies to join the suit.

“There are al­most cer­tainly peo­ple out there who have the wrong re­mains in their pos­ses­sion,” Hansel said.

Jef­frey Ak­man, the dean of Ge­orge Washington’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has ac­knowl­edged mis­man­age­ment of the body donor pro­gram. He said in a state­ment last Fe­bru­ary that the Washington school would not ac­cept new bod­ies and had launched an in­ter­nal re­view.

“Man­age­ment of the willed body donor pro­gram was not con­sis­tent with the stan­dards that donors and their fam­i­lies de­serve,” Ak­man said in the state­ment. “De­spite ex­haus­tive ef­forts, we have been un­able to make a pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of cer­tain donor bod­ies and as a re­sult are un­able to re­turn ashes to some fam­i­lies who have re­quested them.”

The plain­tiffs in the law­suit, two Mary­lan­ders and a woman from Washington, are su­ing for $10 mil­lion each. Hansel has re­quested a jury trial.

“There has been no in­tent on the part of the univer­sity to mis­lead af­fected fam­i­lies,” Can­dace Smith, a univer­sity spokes­woman, said in a state­ment Tues­day.

Of­fi­cials had not been served with the law­suit by Tues­day.

“We will ad­dress this law­suit in an ap­pro­pri­ate le­gal fo­rum, not in the news me­dia,” the univer­sity’s state­ment said.

Smith said in the state­ment that the med­i­cal school dis­cov­ered prob­lems with the ca­daver pro­gram last fall, but she did not pro­vide spe­cific de­tails.

The law­suit al­leges mis­takes go back about seven years. Hansel said the fam­i­lies of more than 200 peo­ple could be af­fected since the school receives 30 to 40 bod­ies each year for study.

Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity ac­cepts ca­dav­ers to al­low med­i­cal stu­dents to study bod­ies in anatomy class. A flier on the med­i­cal school’s web­site en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to do­nate their bod­ies states: “Only through the be­queathal of bod­ies to teach­ing uni­ver­si­ties can fu­ture physi­cians re­ceive ad­e­quate train­ing.”

Eileen Kostaris’ grand­mother willed her body to the univer­sity. Kostaris of Mont­gomery County re­quested her grand­mother’s ashes be re­turned to the fam­ily af­ter the stud­ies.

Last Fe­bru­ary, some­one from the univer­sity called Kostaris and told her there was a mix-up with some ashes; some were mis­la­beled and some weren’t la­beled at all, the law­suit al­leges.

“We­would like to bring our grand­mother home and let her rest in peace,” Kostaris said in a state­ment from her at­tor­ney.

The mother of Alex Naar of Prince Ge­orge’s County died and her body was loaned to the univer­sity in 2013. Her voice box had been re­moved in surgery. A sur­vey of the ca­dav­ers in 2015 found one woman whose voice box was gone, but that body was do­nated in 2015.

“This means her body was ei­ther in­terred with­out per­mis­sion of given to the wrong fam­ily,” the law­suit al­leges.

Mary Pow­ell of Washington was given a box that sup­pos­edly con­tained her mother’s ashes. Records that came with the box, how­ever, stated cre­ma­tion was in De­cem­ber, a month be­fore of­fi­cials as­sured Pow­ell her mother’s body still was be­ing used, the law­suit claims.

“The univer­sity failed to en­sure that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tags were kept with the bod­ies. Tags were re­moved from bod­ies when they were trans­ported to lab­o­ra­to­ries for study and [bod­ies] were re­turned to the morgue with­out tags,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

The man­ager of the body do­na­tion pro­gram no longer works for the univer­sity, Ak­man said in the Fe­bru­ary state­ment.

Smith said Ge­orge Washington will con­tinue to work with af­fected fam­i­lies.

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