Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University (GW) shut down its medical school’s body donation program after losing track of up to 50 cadavers over an undisclosed amount of time.
Families are in shock after being informed the university will not return the remains of family members who were donated for research purposes. The university launched an internal investigation this past fall following an employee complaint that there were problems with the “willed body donor program.”
The program manager left the school after the investigation, the body donation program was shut down thereafter. The university only began informing the affected families last week, The GW Hatchet reported.
“I was speechless,” Eileen Kostaris, a Maryland resident whose grandmother’s body was dedicated to medical school, told The GW Hatchet. “I don’t even know what to say. I just couldn’t believe it. It’s horrible.”
Christina Puchalski, a physician at the university’s medical school, called Kostaris Thursday to deliver the news. Kostaris was told that they had misidentified a host of bodies in the program, and she would probably never receive her grandmother’s remains.
“She said the remains were either mislabeled or not labeled at all,” said Kostaris. “It’s crazy. How does this happen?”
For years, George Washington University has operated the “willed body donor program” to assist medical students in their training. Cadavers are a key instructional tool in medical school and the bodies can be used for up to two years before their remains are cremated and returned to the surviving family. The university generally uses 30 to 40 cadavers for academic purposes in a given calendar year, The Washington Post reported.
A spokeswoman for the medical school acknowledged in an email that the program had a lack of oversight, and that those involved did not always follow proper procedure. It remains unclear whether any individual will be held accountable for the apparent egregious administrative errors.
The spokeswoman would not confirm if the program director who left amidst the internal investigation was fired or resigned, according to The Washington Post.
The university cannot confirm at this time the number of cadavers that they have in their possession or how many people were on their list for future donation. The spokeswoman suggested that those wishing to donate their body to medical research should consider Georgetown or Howard University as alternatives, and added that GW does not expect the donor program to survive this scandal.
“Last fall, we learned that the management of the willed body donor program was not consistent with the standards that donors and their families deserve and expect nor what I would expect as dean,” Jeffrey Akman, dean of GW’s medical school, said in a statement. “As the dean and as a former medical student whose education benefited greatly from the altruism of a body donor, I extend my deepest and most sincere apologies to all of the affected families and the entire SMHS [School of Medicine and Health Sciences] community.”
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