After my post yesterday, 1893 State Hospital Cadavers, a reader asked, “How long did this go on?” I didn’t know but I felt that it didn’t go on for very long. I was thinking about 20 years or so. Another reader stated that it is still the law in New York State and she included a link to the statute. She was right and I was very wrong! After reading the law I was amazed at how little it has changed since 1893. The reason I thought that this practice didn’t go on for very long is because of the thousands of anonymous graves in every state of this country. Even today cemeteries have special lots that are reserved for the poor and for bodies that no one has claimed. According to this law, one would think that any body that wasn’t claimed within the 48 hour time period would be given to a medical university but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Willard State Hospital Cemetery, which was used for 130 years, has close to 6,000 unmarked, anonymous graves. This cemetery is the final resting place of the patients that no one claimed. That’s only 1 New York State Hospital out of 17. I’m sure that somewhere there is a list of those deceased patients whose bodies were given in the name of medical science. That information would certainly be in the patient’s medical records which as of this date, are unavailable to the public. If anyone can explain this law further, please feel free to do so. If you would like to learn more about this subject, please click on the RED links below.
N.Y. PBH. LAW § 4211 : NY Code – Section 4211:
Cadavers; Unclaimed; Delivery to Schools for Study.
“1. Except as hereinafter provided, and subject to the conditions specified in this article, the director or person in charge of any hospital, institution, morgue or other place for bodies of deceased persons not interred or otherwise finally disposed of, and every funeral director, undertaker or other person having in his or her lawful possession, any body of a deceased person for keeping or burial, shall deliver every body of a deceased person in his or her possession, charge, custody or control not placed therein by any person, agency or organization for keeping, burial or other lawful disposition to:
(a) any medical college, school or institute including chiropractic colleges registered by the regents of the university of the state of New York as maintaining a proper standard;
(b) any university within the state authorized by law to confer degrees of doctor of medicine or doctor of dental surgery;
(c) any other college or school incorporated under the laws of the state of New York for the purpose of teaching medicine, anatomy or surgery to those on whom the degree of doctor of medicine has been conferred;
(d) any university within the state of New York having a medical preparatory or medical postgraduate course of instruction; or
(e) any college, school or institute maintaining a mortuary science program that has either been approved by the department or holds a certificate of accreditation from an accrediting organization recognized by the department pursuant to article thirty-four of this chapter, provided, however, that such bodies remain unclaimed by any of the aforementioned institutions. Any college, school or institute maintaining a mortuary science program may only claim and utilize such bodies for anatomical and embalming instruction purposes.
2. The professors and teachers in every university, college, school or institute hereinbefore specified may receive the body of a deceased person delivered or released to the university, college, school or institute, as herein provided, for the purposes of medical, anatomical and surgical science, anatomic embalming, and study.
3. No body of a deceased person shall be delivered or released to or received by, any university, college or school or institute.
(a) if, within forty-eight hours after death it is desired for interment or other lawful disposition by relatives and in the counties of Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, Madison and Cortland, by relatives or friends, or,
(b) if prior to his or her death, the person shall have expressed a desire that his or her body be interred or otherwise lawfully disposed of, is carrying an identification card upon his or her person indicating his or her opposition to the dissection or autopsy of his or her body, or,
(c) if the deceased person is known to have a relative whose place of residence is known or can be ascertained after reasonable and diligent inquiry.
4. (a) A body of a deceased person shall not be delivered or released to, or received by a university, college, school or institute, if within twenty-four hours after notice of death by the person having lawful possession, charge, custody or control to the next of kin, or in the counties of Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, Madison and Cortland to the next of kin, or friend of the deceased person such next of kin or friend shall claim such body for interment or other lawful disposition.
(b) Unless a relative or friend of the deceased person shall claim the body of the deceased person within forty-eight hours after death, or within twenty-four hours after receipt of notice of death as provided in paragraph (a) of this subdivision, the next of kin, relatives or friends, as the case may be, shall be deemed to have assented to delivery or release to, and receipt by the university, college, school or institute, of such dead body.”
SOURCE: FindLaw for Legal Professionals-Cadavers; Unclaimed; Delivery to Schools; Procedure.
FindLaw for Legal Professionals-NY Code-Article 42: CADAVERS.
FindLaw for Legal Professionals-Cadavers; Delivery to Relatives or Friends.
FindLaw for Legal Professionals-Cadavers; Autopsy by Order of Hospital Authorities.
I am physically sick that this could have happened and is still the law….
Hi Kathleen, I am surprised as well! Everyone knows that students studying to be surgeons and medical doctors in general need cadavers to practice on. However, it doesn’t explain why some unclaimed bodies are buried and some are given to medical universities. As I have stated before, while researching old and new documents, articles, and laws, I come across subjects that I know very little about. This is one of them.
The State of New York is hiding behind HIPPA in order to cover up their disgraceful treatment “to this day” of the mentally ill.
Release the records and let families remember their lost loved ones.
I totally agree!
Unfortunately this was common in most states for many years. Not sure how many states have made tougher standards for a body donation. I’ve found many death certificates from ESH in Ky that list place of burial as “sent to University of Louisville Med School” from the 1900s through 1950s. It seems most were black patients & were all processed by the same funeral home. The university paid, at that time anyway, for “donations”.
I have tried to get some information from U of L, but unfortunately they don’t have anything going back past the 1940s & they don’t know what was done with the bodies once they were done with the bodies. The ones they do have records for say nothing about burial or cremation.
I’m guessing that while inmates of state hospital whose bodies were donated to medical schools would obviously not be included in the burial lists, they would be included in the facilities’ lists of those who died. Like the burial records, NYS will not make these records public, citing HIPAA, yet obviously lists of people who died are NOT medical records.