Alleged body part theft by Harvard morgue manager spurs lawsuit

The ex-manager allegedly sold body parts on the black market, prompting a lawsuit for negligence and emotional distress.

Pedestrians walk towards the Harvard Medical School
The deans of Harvard Medical School have expressed 'sadness and distress' at accusations that a former morgue manager sold bodies donated for research [File: Charles Krupa/AP Photo]

The son of a United States woman who had her body donated to Harvard Medical School (HMS) for scientific research has filed a class-action lawsuit, following allegations that the university’s former morgue manager stole and sold body parts.

Friday’s lawsuit — submitted in the Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, Massachusetts — could include the families of as many as 400 people who donated cadavers.

Earlier this week, a federal grand jury indicted former morgue manager Cedric Lodge and four other defendants over allegations that they sold donated remains on the black market. They were charged with “conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods”.

Friday’s class-action lawsuit, meanwhile, seeks damages for negligence, breach of duty and the infliction of emotional distress.

“Medical schools like Harvard have a duty to ensure [donated remains] are handled properly and with decency and to ensure they are used for their intended purpose of scientific study,” said Jeff Catalano, a partner at Keches Law Group, which is representing the victims.

“When there’s a breach of that duty, the way the family can be compensated for that is through an emotional distress claim,” he added.

Keches Law Group is representing John Bozek, who believes the body of his mother Adele Mazzone was tampered with as part of the scheme.

The 55-year-old Lodge and his wife, Denise Lodge, allegedly plotted to sell body parts such as heads, brains, skin and bones to other defendants listed in the federal indictment. Those defendants then resold their purchases to other buyers.

Harvard says it fired Lodge on May 6. Deans George Daley and Edward Hundert called the alleged acts “morally reprehensible” in a post on the school’s website.

“We are appalled to learn that something so disturbing could happen on our campus — a community dedicated to healing and serving others,” the message reads.

“The reported incidents are a betrayal of HMS and, most importantly, each of the individuals who altruistically chose to will their bodies to HMS through the Anatomical Gift Program to advance medical education and research.”

Lodge allegedly allowed some prospective customers to come to the morgue in person, in order to select which remains they wished to buy. He allegedly took home other body parts or posted them through the mail.

Bodies donated to the medical school, however, are meant to be reserved for research or teaching purposes only. Once they are used, the remains are often cremated and returned to their families for burial.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press