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Widow says she never agreed to husband's body being dissected for spectators at 'autopsy' show

David Saunders died in Louisiana in late August from Covid and his body was used in October at the ticketed event in Oregon. "To say the least, I'm upset," his wife said.

A widow in Louisiana said she never gave consent for her husband's body to be used in a ticketed event in Oregon described as a “dissection of a full human cadaver,” where spectators paid at least $100 to watch her husband's remains undergo a "formal autopsy."

“It’s horrible what has happened to my husband,” said Elsie Saunders, while speaking of her late husband, David Saunders, who died at 98 in late August from complications of Covid-19.

Although she agreed to donate her husband's body for research, she says she had no idea that would involve a spectator event with some individuals paying up to $500 to see her husband dissected.

“I didn’t know he was going to be … put on display like a performing bear or something," Saunders said of her husband, 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.”

The Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.
The Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.Google Maps

Saunders, 92, of Baker, Louisiana, said Wednesday she last saw her husband when he died at a hospital and his body was taken to a funeral home in Baton Rouge.

A representative with the funeral home declined an NBC request for comment Wednesday.

The body was then obtained by a company in Las Vegas, called Med Ed Labs, according to company manager Obteen Nassiri.

Med Ed Labs describes itself on its website as working with medical device companies for medical and surgical research, education and training.

Nassiri said on Wednesday that Saunders’ family did give permission for his company to obtain the body and use it for medical purposes. And that’s what Nassiri said the company thought it was doing when it agreed to lend Saunders’ body to another company.

That company, Death Science, was the promoter of an Oct. 17 show in Portland, Oregon, that used David Saunders’ body in an event, NBC affiliate KING in Seattle reported.

The Oddities & Curiosities Expo said it served as a ticketing platform for Death Science, but did not have any role in the Oct. 17 event in Portland, which was not part of the traveling expo, according to a company statement posted on its website.

“Our only role was to provide a ticketing platform for Death Science, which was the proprietor of the class. The Oddities & Curiosities Expo made no profit from this demonstration. The cadaver class has never been a part of the traveling expo,” the statement said. “We were aware that this demonstration was happening at a different location with a different company, and we were of the understanding that it was intended to be educational in nature.”

David Saunders' body was displayed and dissected in the ballroom of a Portland Marriott hotel ballroom, with members of the paying audience sitting inches from the autopsy table, KING reported.

"I would not be involved in anything like that," Nassiri said.

But a representative with Death Science on Wednesday said that Med Ed Labs and Nassiri partnered in the event last month in Portland.

"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.”

Death Science describes 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.

In the Oct. 17 workshop, participants observed “an anatomical dissection of a full human cadaver” and “Death Science’s medical professional partners guided participants through a formal autopsy,” a company spokesman said.

Spectators paid between $100 to $500 and about 70 people attended, according to the spokesman.

A spokesperson with the Portland Police Bureau said that, while there may be violations of civil law over the use of David Saunders' body, there are "no criminal laws which directly speak to such circumstances."

Nassiri on Wednesday said he has apologized to Saunders’ widow and said his company should have done more to learn what Death Science had planned for the body.

“We should have been more arduous and done more investigative research to find out exactly what they were doing,” he said.

Nassiri said his company now has possession of David Saunders’ body. He said he expects the body to be cremated and returned to his family in the “short future."

CORRECTION (Nov. 10, 2021, 2:58 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the relationship between the Death Science show and the Oddities and Curiosities Expo. The expo company says Death Science’s cadaver class was not part of the expo, and that the expo company’s only role was to provide a ticketing platform for Death Science.