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Lost Donated Body Leads to Emotional Distress Suit

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By Brian Kumnick on August 04, 2009 12:49 PM

An Illinois woman is suing a medical school and an anatomical-donation organization over claims that they lost her husband's body after he donated it for scientific study, according to the Chicago Tribune.

According to Margaret Hejna, her husband James Hejna arranged for his body to be donated to science upon his death, and in 2003, the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois received his remains. Body-donation programs are an important component of medical research and education, being particularly relied upon in the training of new doctors. The AGA ultimately delivered the remains to Midwestern University's school of osteopathic medicine, for study by medical students.

Expecting that it would be up to two years before the remains were cremated and returned, Hejna waited until 2006 to begin inquiring after their whereabouts. The suit alleges that what followed was a series of delays and non-answers by AGA, and then Midwestern, culminating in their pointing to each other as the source of the problem.
She further claims that Midwestern, after much delay, admitted to her that the remains had possibly been delivered to another family. (There is no indication that that other family, whoever it may be, is aware of any problem.)

So Hejna is suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a type of claim previously discussed in Injured in relation to the Burr Oak Cemetery lawsuits. Hejna is further alleging that the defendants interfered with her rights, as next of kin, to receive and dispose of her husband's remains.

Both the AGA and Midwestern University insist that the loss of a donated body is a rare, even first-time, occurrence. Midwestern does admit lacking documentation of its efforts to return James Hejna's remains, but beyond that it isn't saying much. Which makes sense: intentional or not, the lack of care employed in this instance speaks for itself, and may cause real damage to efforts to encourage others to donate their remains.

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