An elderly man who died as a result of COVID-19 was recently dissected in front of a live paying audience in Oregon without his family's consent, according to a local news report.
The macabre public autopsy of 98-year-old David Saunders' body took place on Oct. 17 in a Marriott ballroom in Portland as a part of the traveling "Oddities and Curiosities Expo," KING-TV reported.
According to its website, the expo often features dark art and sideshow performances and markets itself as a leading community "for lovers of the strange, unusual, and bizarre."
Family members of Saunders, including his widow, only learned of the morbid event after seeing it covered by local news and were reportedly shocked at the revelation.
They had been under the impression that when they donated their loved one's body to Las Vegas-based company Med Ed Labs, the body would be used for private medical research — not in a traveling freak show.
Instead, Saunders' body ended up in the hands of DeathScience.org founder Jeremy Ciliberto, who in turn used it as a centerpiece at the expo. Attendees reportedly paid $500 to witness the autopsy in person.
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"It makes me really feel saddened that this gentleman was not given the dignity and the respect that he deserved and what he thought and his family thought that would be happening to his body," Mike Clark, a funeral director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told the Seattle news outlet.
Clark reportedly handled the preparation of Saunders' body before it was handed off to Med Ed Labs, a private company that solicits body donations for research. He, too, recounted being shocked after learning where the body ended up.
"I was totally horrified," Clark said. "Our whole staff was horrified that this is what had happened to a gentleman that he and his family thought that his body was going for the advancement of medical students."
According to KING, a representative for Med Ed Labs has since claimed that Ciliberto was "beyond" dishonest in his communications with the company, noting that Ciliberto said he would be using the body for a medical class.
Ciliberto has reportedly denied any wrongdoing, arguing, "I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research."
Following news of the live autopsy, Ciliberto announced that a similar event would be canceled in Seattle.
"We feel that this was not respectful and certainly not ethical," Kimberly DiLeo, chief medical death investigator for the Multnomah County medical examiner's office, added. She is reportedly leading an investigation into the incidents.