Explosion of Donated Bodies

When I was in college, the tune “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies, a Canadian alternative rock band, hit #4 on the U.S. charts. The chorus of this weird song was simply humming.

A friend of the band who was in medical school suggested the name ‘Crash Test Dummies,’ the colloquial name for the mannequins he studied in school. The dummies, which are properly known as full-scale anthropomorphic test devices, simulate the dimensions, weight proportions and articulation of the human body.

Automobile and aircraft manufacturers use dummies to predict the injuries a person might sustain in a crash. They gained national awareness in the 1980s after starring in a number of public service commercials promoting the use of seat belts. Today’s dummies can record data such as velocity of impact, crushing force, bending, folding, or torque of the body, and deceleration rates during a collision.

While this data is extremely valuable, to quote Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Prior to the use of dummies, car companies used human cadavers to test collisions, as they provided very realistic test results. However, the ethics of this practice are often questioned given that cadavers are not able to consent to such research.

Jim Stauffer couldn’t agree more.

Stauffer’s mother, Doris, died in hospice care over five years ago after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Stauffer donated his mother’s body to Biological Resource Center (BRC), hoping it would be used for Alzheimer’s research.

A few years after she passed, Stauffer was contacted by a reporter from Reuters who informed him that his mother, along with more than 20 other deceased individuals, were used in U.S. Army blast experiments. According to Stauffer, his mother was “supposedly strapped in a chair on some sort of apparatus, and a detonation took place underneath her to basically kind of get an idea of what the human body goes through when a vehicle is hit by an IED.”

Within 45 minutes of his mother’s passing, an official from the BRC retrieved her body and furnished Stauffer with a form that asked if her body could be used on “non-medical projects that could involve exposure to destructive forces e.g., impacts, crashes, ballistic injuries, and blasts.” Stauffer did not consent to these projects, nor did any of the other families of the deceased test subjects. According to Reuters, doing this without permission of donors or relatives is a violation of U.S. Army policy. And like Stauffer, most of the families were notified by Reuters and not the Army.

So Stauffer joined 32 other people in suing Arizona-based Biological Resource Center and its owner Stephen Gore. The suit, which is set for trial in October, seeks punitive and compensatory damages for “severe, permanent and extreme emotional and mental suffering and grief, as well as resulting in physical illnesses.”

According to Reuters, the BRC would collect donated bodies like Doris’s, and then sell them for $5,893 each. The BRC sold more than 20,000 parts from about 5,000 bodies. Stauffer’s lawsuit contained gory details about an FBI raid of the facility in 2014 that revealed buckets of body parts and the bodies of different people sewn together.

Gore was also charged criminally and pleaded guilty to illegal control of an enterprise. He was sentenced to one year of deferred jail time and four years’ probation.

Given Gore’s minimal sentence, I was going to make a crack about his attorneys costing an arm and a leg, but I should probably just leave that alone.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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