Bodies Donated to NYU Found to be Disposed of in Mass Graves

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

During an investigation conducted by The New York Times into Hart Island burials, it was revealed that bodies that had been donated to the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine ended up in mass graves on Staten Island. In cases described in the Times report, the donors had signed forms that promised cremation and the disposal of their ashes by the medical school “in an appropriate and dignified manner.”

The bodies donated to medical science served as cadavers for first-year students at NYU. Hart Island is where New York City buries the dead it considers unclaimed and indigent. When this practice was revealed, it left surviving family members and friends shockeded, reports the Times.

NYU is apologizing and acknowledging that the cases were part of a practice that went on for years. NYU was sending a subset of privately donated cadavers to a city morgue for burial at public expense until 2013. “As an institution, we weren’t aware this was happening. I promise it’s not happening now,” said Lisa Greiner, spokeswoman for NYU Langone Medical Center.

This news brings to light the concerns about the lack of regulation and oversight in body donation operations. It may have repercussions at the 16 medical schools in New York State, that use more than 800 donated bodies yearly. The number of bodies donated to NYU and ended up in Hart Island is not known, Ms. Greiner said. Some records were lost in Hurricane Sandy, and the longtime program director, was retired and not available, since 2011, the Times reports.

The Times came across the cases it linked to NYU while they examined a database of 62,000 Hart Island burials since 1980. A sign that the deceased had served as a medical cadaver was when there was a gap of one to three years between death and burial. Without public records on body donations, there is no clear way to identify how many donors ended up in the virtual “potter’s field.”