BOSTON (AP) — The son of a woman whose body was donated to Harvard Medical School for research purposes filed a class-action lawsuit on Friday on behalf of all families who believe their loved ones’ body parts were mishandled by the school’s former morgue manager.
The lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston said the class could include the families of up to 400 donated cadavers. It alleges negligence, breach of duty and infliction of emotional distress.
Before Adele Mazzone died in February 2019, she arranged to donate her body to the medical school for research, according to the lawsuit. Her ashes were returned to her family in April 2021, but her son, John Bozek, of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, thinks that his mother’s body was one of those desecrated at the morgue.
“Plaintiff brings this class action on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated individuals whose family members donated and entrusted their deceased bodies into Harvard’s custody for medical research and academic study and whose cadavers were then mishandled, dissected, and/or sold by the HMS morgue manager,” the suit says.
A Harvard spokesperson said via email that the university had no comment on the lawsuit.
When someone loses a loved one, “sometimes the only thing they can latch onto, is that their loved ones’ remains are going to be used for an important scientific purpose,” Jeff Catalano, a partner at Keches Law Group, which is representing Bozek, said in a statement.
Harvard owed a duty of care to the families who entrusted the school with custody of their loved ones’ donated bodies, he said.
“Medical schools like Harvard have a duty to ensure donated remains are handled properly and with decency and to ensure they are used for their intended purpose of scientific study,” he said.
In a message posted on the school’s website Friday entitled “An abhorrent betrayal,” deans George Daley and Edward Hundert called the theft of body parts “morally reprehensible.”
“We are appalled to learn that something so disturbing could happen on our campus — a community dedicated to healing and serving others,” the deans wrote. “The reported incidents are a betrayal of HMS and, most importantly, each of the individuals who altruistically chose to will their bodies to HMS through the Anatomical Gift Program to advance medical education and research.”
The former morgue manager, 55-year-old Cedric Lodge, his wife and three other people are facing federal criminal charges. Harvard said Lodge was fired May 6.
According to prosecutors, the defendants were part of a nationwide network of people who bought and sold remains stolen from Harvard Medical School and an Arkansas mortuary.
Lodge sometimes took the body parts — which included heads, brains, skin and bones — back to his Goffstown, New Hampshire, home, and some remains were sent to buyers through the mail, according to the criminal case. Lodge also allegedly allowed buyers to come to the morgue to pick which remains they wanted to buy, authorities said.
No attorney was listed for Lodge in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.