Harvard's response to morgue scandal falls short, experts say

How did this go under the radar for so long and what sort of oversight was in place? These are some of the key questions facing Harvard Medical School after federal officials announced the indictment and arrest of the school's former morgue manager, alleging he stole and sold human remains from bodies donated for medical research. 

News of the scandal broke June 14, when four individuals — including the morgue manager, Cedric Lodge — were charged. According to the indictment, Mr. Lodge and his wife, Denise Lodge, collaborated to sell human remains to buyers from their residence in New Hampshire. Two individuals who allegedly bought body parts from the Lodges were also charged. Officials believe this took place from 2018 through August of 2022. 

Experts in crisis communications say Harvard's response should have included a press conference or another way to address questions from the media on how it monitored bodies donated to the school for medical research. Harvard found out about the alleged crimes in March, though federal officials directed the school to wait until the indictment to release any sort of statement. After the arrests were announced, Harvard mailed letters overnight to families that may have been affected, released a detailed statement and created a frequently asked questions page, though none addressed oversight processes, The Boston Globe reported. 

Given the time from when Harvard found out and news breaking, experts say the school had ample time to prepare for questions from the public.

"It isn't just between Harvard and the donors. There is also a public interest here," Thomas Mulligan, a retired former executive with Sitrick and Company, a crisis communications firm in New York City, told the Globe. "When you stand up in public and show your face, you're putting a human being behind the words in your statement. It shows a willingness to address these questions as they come."

Families of those affected by the alleged crimes filed a class action lawsuit against Mr. Lodge, Harvard's president and fellows, CNN reported June 16. The lawsuit was filed in Massachuesetts' Suffolk County Superior Court and alleges Harvard and Mr. Lodge breached their duty of care and failed to take reasonable steps to "ensure that the cadavers were properly handled and maintained for their intended purpose of scientific study and not improperly mishandled, dissected, and/or sold to third parties." 

Harvard told CNN it could not comment on pending litigation. 

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