December 6, 2021

Scandal about treatment of cadavers in France’s leading medical school

A national bioethical framework is needed for body donation
Since last November, Europe’s largest anatomy centre at the medical school of the University of Paris-Descartes has been closed because of serious deficiencies in the state of preservation of cadavers, dilapidated premises and suspicions that the bodies are being commodified.

In a report handed down recently, the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs and the Inspectorate of Education, Sport and Research found that “Serious ethical breaches have persisted for several years in one of our most prestigious faculties. The responsibility of the University of Paris-Descartes in the serious errors that its body donation centre (CDC) is experiencing has been clearly established.”

Moreover, it appears that “downstream users may have been able to engage in a lucrative activity within the CDC” — in other words, commodification of body parts.

The report lists several reasons for this scandal: confused responsibilities, power struggles, the absence of a regulatory body, and a need for funding.

The police are looking into the matter, as well.

The scandal came to light in November in a searing article in L’Express. It found that the bodies of “thousands of people” who donated their bodies to science were being kept in “indecent conditions” for decades. “Bodies were left to rot, eaten by mice, to the point where some had to be incinerated without being dissected. Bodies piled on top of each other, without any dignity and contrary to any ethical rule.”

It appears that the problems of the CDC are so deeply entrenched that it will not re-open for another six months. The inspectorates found that a national bioethical framework is needed for body donation.

“The conclusions of the report confirm that legislative intervention is necessary to clarify the legal and ethical framework for body donations to science and to allow the continuation of training and research activities,” said Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

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