State Supreme Court tosses lawsuit over lost cadaver

Chris Rizo Apr. 8, 2009, 2:29pm

Marvin Baxter

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-The California Supreme Court has tossed a lawsuit over a lost cadaver, ruling that medical schools have no legal responsibility to "safeguard the sensibilities" of donors' families.

The suit against the University of California at Irvine was brought by Evelyn Conroy after she learned that whereabouts of her husband's remains were unknown and that a former director of the donated body program, Chris Brown, had not kept reliable records on cadavers.

A university audit found there were no records to show what happened to 320 of 441 bodies donated to the Willed Body Program from 1995 to 1999.

Conroy sued the University of California Regents, claiming fraud, deceit and negligence.

The high court rejected her claims unanimously, saying that once her husband's body was donated to the Southern California campus, relatives have little say in what happens to the cadaver.

The majority ruling, written by Justice Marvin Baxter, said a medical school has no obligation under state law "to conduct its teaching and research in such a way as to safeguard the sensibilities of the surviving family members."

James Conroy died in 1999. He signed an agreement to join the Willed Body Program in 1996, opting to donate his body to UCI Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
The justice said there was no evidence presented to suggest that James Conroy's body was used in a "clandestine private tutoring class, transported or dismembered for profit or used in any manner other than that specified in the donation agreement."

A judge on the Orange County Superior Court earlier sided with the university, as did the 4th District Court of Appeal before Conroy appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.

Signing the majority opinion were, in addition to Baxter, Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, Ming Chin, Carlos Moreno and Carol Corrigan.

The case is Conroy v. The Regents of the University of California.

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