Seven cadavers donated to Tulane University’s medical school were sold to the Army and blown up in land mine experiments, officials said Wednesday. Tulane said it has suspended dealings with a national distributor of donated bodies.
Tulane receives up to 150 cadavers a year from donors but needs only between 40 and 45 for classes, said Mary Bitner Anderson, co-director of the Tulane School of Medicine’s Willed Body Program.
The university paid National Anatomical Service, a New York-based company that distributes bodies nationwide, less than $1,000 a body to deliver surplus cadavers, thinking they were going to medical schools in need of corpses.
The anatomical services company sold seven cadavers to the Army for between $25,000 and $30,000, said Chuck Dasey, a spokesman for the Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command in Fort Detrick, Md. The bodies were blown up in tests on protective footwear against land mines at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
Tulane said it found out about the Army’s use of the bodies in January 2003. It suspended its contract with the anatomical services company this month. The company did not immediately return calls for comment.
“There is a legitimate need for medical research and cadavers are one of the models that help medical researchers find out valuable information,” Dasey said. “Our position is that it is a regulated process. Obviously it makes some people uncomfortable.”
Cadaver remains are routinely cremated, he added.
Military use is common
For years military researchers have bought cadavers to use in research involving explosive devices. In the last five years, that research has been used to help determine safe standoff distances, on how to build the best shelters, and to improve helmets, Dasey said.
Michael Meyer, a philosophy professor at Santa Clara University in California who has written about the ethics of donated bodies, said the military’s use is questionable because it knows donors did not expect to end up in land mine tests.
“Imagine if your mother had said all her life that she wanted her body to be used for science, and then her body was used to test land mines. I think that is disturbing, and I think there are some moral problems with deception here,” Meyers said.
The market in bodies and body parts is under scrutiny after two men, including the head of the Willed Body Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, were arrested for trafficking in stolen body parts.