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‘Serious Inventory Control Problem’ in Maryland’s Body Donation Program Led to Mishandled Remains

By Scott MacFarlane, Katie Leslie and Steve Jones

A Maryland program overseeing thousands of bodies given to science mishandled the remains of at least several of its donors, with problems including poor tracking of bodies, a donor’s cremains being mistakenly buried in a state cemetery and an allegation of an employee knowingly sending the wrong remains to a donor’s family, a News4 I-Team investigation has found.

Records obtained by News4 through an open records request reveal the newly appointed director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board alerted state officials in late July about what he described as a “serious inventory control problem.”

Robert Wilk, who took over the anatomy board last summer, wrote that he learned of a case in which a former employee “used anatomical material from the lab to ‘produce’ a body for cremation” and “wrongfully” obtained cremation approval before giving those ashes to a different donor’s family. He also described discrepancies between the state board’s records and those kept by a donor institution, leading to confusion over which bodies had already been cremated.

The problems were so bad, Wilk continued, he had considered suspending the anatomy board after taking the helm.

Maryland Department of Health officials are now pledging improvements at the program, which manages thousands of bodies annually donated for scientific and medical research at both in and out-of-state institutions. The anatomy board reports to the Department of Health but is jointly run by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“We will get to the bottom of this,” said Fran Phillips, Maryland’s deputy secretary for public health services. “We don’t want to leave any uncertainty about the state anatomy board.”

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