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Widow of man dissected at autopsy show pushes for new law after KING 5 investigation

The vote by Multnomah County Commissioners follows the KING 5 Investigation “Ticket to an Autopsy” about a man's body that was dissected at a live event.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County Commissioners are considering a law that would ban the public display of human remains in response to a KING 5 Investigation that found a man's body was dissected in front of an audience in Portland last October.

The commissioners wiped away tears as they listened to David Saunders' widow share the “vision in my mind” of her husband lying on a table in a Portland hotel ballroom room with his “…naked and defenseless body being dismembered like a butcher preparing an animal carcass for sale.”

The five-member county commission voted unanimously Thursday to take the first step toward banning the type of event that allowed the body of Elsie Saunders’ deceased husband to be dissected in front of a paying audience last October.

“Mrs. Saunders, thank you so much for being here. So sorry….,” Commissioner Shusheela Jayapal said, choking up after Saunders’ testimony by phone call from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Commissioners approved the first reading of an ordinance that would ban the public display of human remains (except by museums, universities, and other authorized entities), fine violators $1,000 a day, and seize the ill-gotten profits from offenders.

The proposal is a response to the KING 5 Investigation that revealed that David Saunders’s body was dissected in front of an audience that paid up to $500 a ticket.  A retired college professor ran the session and invited participants to wear rubber gloves and prod the body of the deceased 98-year-old man.

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

“Could they not realize this was once a lively, and caring human being?” Elsie Saunders asked commissioners.

Kimberly DiLeo, Multnomah County’s chief death investigator, testified that she received a tip before the event and asked organizers, DeathScience.org, and the Marriott hotel to cancel the event. They declined.

“Unbeknownst to me, an investigative journalist with KING 5 purchased a ticket and attended the event,” DiLeo said. 

David Saunders was not identified by name during the show, but the undercover photojournalist realized that Saunders wore a medical bracelet that included his name. KING 5 aired his name in its original report and a week later DiLeo received a phone call from the Louisiana funeral home that had prepared his body after he died from COVID in 2021.

RELATED: Family of man dissected at autopsy event says they didn’t give consent

Elsie Saunders had allowed the funeral home to transfer her husband’s body to Med Ed Labs in Las Vegas, which claimed that donor cadavers were used for medical and scientific education. She said her husband, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, would have approved of one final act to benefit humankind.

Elsie Saunders learned the horrible truth about what happened to her husband’s body from KING 5’s story.

“I was duped by selfish and immoral people for the purpose of their monetary gain,” Saunders told commissioners Thursday.

Both Med Ed Labs and DeathScience denied any wrongdoing. Each blamed the other for miscommunications or deceptions that allowed David Saunders’ body to be dissected at the event without proper consent from his family.

Authorities in both Portland and Louisiana have indicated that it appears that no existing laws were violated.

RELATED: Inside the world of for-profit human body donation

Multnomah County Commissioners will take a final vote on the proposed ordinance next week.

DeathScience canceled an autopsy show planned for Halloween day in Seattle after KING 5’s coverage.

The organization could have landed itself in hot water if that show had gone forward, because of a law already on the books.

The Seattle City Council banned the commercialization of human remains in 2009 after the “Bodies Exhibit” – which displayed plastic-coated human remains in a traveling show – made two stops in Seattle.

RELATED: Former Seattle 'body broker' fires lawyer, opts for trial

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