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Regardless of Donors Wishes Bodies Given to NYU Buried in Mass Graves

May 31, 2016

During an investigation into Hart Island burials, it was found that bodies that had been donated to the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine for first-year medical students ended up in mass graves on Staten Island. "Buried by the score in wide, deep pits, the Hart Island dead seem to vanish - and so does the explanation for how they came to be there," reports the Times.

New York is unique among cities in America in how it disposes of the dead deemed to be unclaimed: interment on a lonely island, off-limits to the public, buried by a crew of inmates who get paid 50 cents an hour. In cases described in the Times report, the donors had signed forms that promised cremation and the disposal of their ashes by the medical school "in an appropriate and dignified manner." When the mass burial practice was revealed, surviving family members and friends were shocked, the Times reports.

NYU is apologizing and acknowledging that the cases were part of a practice that went on for years. NYU was sending a subset of privately donated cadavers to a city morgue for burial at public expense until 2013. Lisa Greiner, spokeswoman for NYU Langone Medical Center said, "As an institution, we weren't aware this was happening. I promise it's not happening now," said Lisa Greiner, spokeswoman for NYU Langone Medical Center.

Concerns about the lack of regulation and oversight in body donation operations may have repercussions at the 16 medical schools in New York State, that use more than 800 donated bodies yearly. Ms. Greiner said she was unable to explain NYU's reasoning behind this practice, but tied it to confusing notification letters sent out to survivors, at times months after a donor's body had been accepted as a cadaver. Despite the written wishes of the donor, unless a surviving relative or executor responded to that notification within 90 by checking the appropriate box, the was body was not cremated, but moved to the city morgue for burial at Hart Island, according to the Times.

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