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Pay-per-view autopsy event canceled in Seattle after criticism

Organizers had planned a cadaver dissection class in Seattle where an autopsy would have been performed on a dead body before a live audience.

SEATTLE — The organizer of a public, pay-per-view autopsy “class” scheduled for Halloween day in Seattle says the event has been canceled.

“Unfortunately for Seattle and the north west (sic), team members have decided to cancel the event in your area,” said Jeremy Ciliberto, founder of DeathScience.org, in an email to KING 5 News.

Ciliberto sold tickets for up to $500 to the public to view in-person the autopsy and dissection of an actual human body. The event was scheduled to take place Sunday in a Marriott hotel conference room in Seattle.

The cadaver lab is touring as part of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo, which travels across the country.

It was the second in a series of pay-per-view autopsies that Ciliberto had planned to bring to paying customers.

Reaction to the first show, which took place in a Marriott hotel in Portland on Oct. 17, sparked questions from the authorities and the KING 5 Investigators and led to the cancellation in Seattle.

“We feel that this was not respectful and certainly not ethical,” said Kimberly DiLeo, the chief medical death investigator for the Multnomah County, Oregon Medical Examiner.

A photojournalist from KING 5 attended the Portland show, and it was exactly as advertised.

Paying customers filed into a lower floor ballroom at the Marriott Downtown Waterfront hotel. On a table in the center of the ballroom, a figure lay draped in a white sheet. The VIP customers, who paid the $500 ticket price, sat in the front row inches from the table.

Dr. Colin Henderson, a retired professor of anatomy from the University of Montana in Missoula, removed the covering and exposed the body of an 86-year-old dead man that Henderson said “…had donated his body to science.”

Henderson drew a surgical knife and over the course of the next several hours cut into the chest cavity, head and limbs of the corpse. He removed various organs and the brain, explaining to the audience that this was the same type of procedure that he had taught to students during his college career.

“It was very educational,” said one attendee named Monica. “It was very respectful to the person that donated their body.”

“They’re not doing anything that I would, if it was my own family member, be upset about,” said Christine, a Portland resident, who attended the show.

Ciliberto of DeathScience.org called it “an educational event” that “allows the students to explore the body in a much more intimate way” and de-stigmatizes death, according to Ciliberto, who is also a TikTok host with a million followers, podcaster and artist whose works are created with replica human bones.

“This is not a sideshow,” Ciliberto said. “This is very professional.”

But the event also raises many questions that the KING 5 Investigators sought to answer about ethics, the firms known as “body brokers” and whether the body donor or his family gave consent to the public, for-profit dissection of his corpse.

The cadavers come from Med Ed Labs, a Las Vegas-based, for-profit company that accepts donations of human bodies for “…medical and surgical research, education, and training.” In exchange for the donation, surviving family members receive their loved one’s cremated remains and avoid the cost of a burial.

Ciliberto said that he pays Med Ed “north” of $10,000 – he wouldn’t say exactly how much – for each human cadaver.

Ciliberto said Med Ed was aware of his plans for the corpses he purchased and obtained the proper consent. But DiLeo, the chief death investigator based in Portland, said a Med Ed supervisor told her that was not the case.

“Their supervisor was unaware of the deceased being used for this event,” DiLeo said.

That means the donor may not have known that his body would be used in a public, for-profit manner.

Ciliberto said in a later email that donor consent was not his responsibility.

“Any concerns about the cadaver have always been addressed by the lab,” Ciliberto wrote. “Again I am not the lab, I am the host.”

DiLeo said her office is attempting to locate the next-of-kin of the man whose body was dissected in Portland.

KING 5’s photojournalist at the cadaver show noted a medical-type bracelet on the man’s wrist with the name David Saunders typed on it. A search of nationwide death records and obituary websites did not turn up any solid leads on the death of an 86-year-old David Saunders. The medical examiner’s office estimates that he died within the last three to six months, based on images from the cadaver lab.

Before the Portland show on Oct. 17, DiLeo convinced the Downtown Courtyard Marriott to cancel the cadaver class.

“(The Marriott was) initially told that the event was for medical equipment training and once they found out and discovered the website, (the manager) immediately canceled the event,” said DiLeo.

But Ciliberto quickly moved to the nearby Marriott Downtown Waterfront, which DiLeo said refused to cancel when she contacted management there.

“We follow detailed protocols to protect safety…,” said General Manager Martin McAllister in a written statement. “We are aware of concerns regarding a recent event and we are looking into them further, but as a matter of privacy, we do not discuss details of guests or groups.”

Med Ed Labs did not answer KING 5’s questions. Professor Colin Henderson, who performed the procedure in Portland, referred questions to Ciliberto, saying that he was simply hired to conduct the forensic dissection.

“We need to have a law in place where this doesn’t happen again,” said DiLeo.

However, in an interview with KING 5, Ciliberto said he has no regrets about his Portland show and he plans more pay-per-view autopsies.

“We’re looking at more locations across the United States in 2022,” he said.

Editor’s Note: After our investigation aired, the Oddities and Curiosities Expo provided an official statement, which provides in part: “Our only role was to provide a ticketing platform for Death Science, which was the proprietor of the class. The Oddities & Curiosities Expo made no profit from this demonstration. The cadaver class has never been a part of the traveling expo.” The KING 5 Investigators confirmed the Oddities and Curiosities Expo refunded ticket purchases following the canceled show and for unfilled orders for live stream tickets. Death Science was a vendor at the Portland Expo, where tickets to the cadaver class were sold. In addition, The Oddities and Curiosities Expo Facebook page promoted the cadaver class in conjunction with the Expos on October 16 in Portland and October 30 in Seattle. 

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