Panel recommends changes after Harvard morgue scandal

A panel of outside experts who reviewed Harvard Medical School's morgue operations following allegations that a former employee at the morgue stole and sold human remains from bodies donated for medical research has recommended procedural improvements, multiple media outlets reported Dec. 7. 

The panel's long-awaited report specifically recommends greater oversight and better documentation of cadaver donations, as well as better security and better training and monitoring of workers, according to CBS affiliate WBZ-TV and NPR member station WBUR News.

In June, news of the morgue scandal broke when four individuals — including the morgue manager, Cedric Lodge — were charged in the nationwide trafficking of human remains stolen from Boston-based Harvard Medical School. According to the indictment, from 2018 through 2022, Mr. Lodge allegedly stole organs and cadaver parts that were donated for medical research and collaborated with his wife, Denise Lodge, to sell the human remains to buyers from their New Hampshire residence. Two individuals, Katrina Maclean and Joshua Taylor, are accused in the indictment of buying body parts from the Lodges.

In response to the scandal, the university appointed a panel of three outside experts to evaluate Harvard's anatomical gift program and related policies and practices. Harvard recently announced that the panel has concluded its work, culminating in a report released Dec. 7.

The report stated that the university does not have a policy related to the program or to the care and use of human specimens donated or acquired for education and research. Therefore, it "should develop and implement a comprehensive policy specific to the AGP that addresses all human specimens acquired or used for education and research. Processes to maintain an up-to-date Standard Operating Procedure Manual are also needed."

The report also recommended the appointment of a medical director to advise on matters of donor eligibility and suitability, as well as more review and assessment of program information security processes "to ensure proper safeguards for personally identifiable information stored in hard copy." 

Additionally, the report recommends that there be rigorous background checks and screening in the hiring process for program staff; more formal training processes for security supervisors who have responsibility for receipt of donors after hours; and security measures such as more cameras and that any keys be assigned to specific individuals and kept in secure locations.

"Given privacy considerations and the preciousness of the donor resources, the panel recommends that staff receive routine training in ethical values and conduct and acknowledge their understanding of these responsibilities both at hire and annually thereafter," the report authors wrote.

In a letter posted Dec. 7 to Harvard's website, Provost Alan Garber, MD, PhD, and George Daley, MD, PhD, dean of the faculty of medicine, said Mr. Lodge's alleged criminal acts "are morally reprehensible and inconsistent with the standards that Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, our anatomical donors, and their loved ones expect and deserve. We reaffirm our deep sorrow for the continued uncertainty and distress that families face as the criminal proceedings continue."  

The letter also stated that Harvard has appointed a task force chaired by Harvard Medical School Dean for Medical Education Bernard Chang, MD, "to review the panel's recommendations and to develop an implementation plan in an expedient and thoughtful manner."

Families of those affected by the alleged crimes have joined a class-action lawsuit. According to WBUR, Harvard in November filed a motion to dismiss various lawsuits brought by families and has been temporarily directing body donors to Tufts University's medical school in Boston.

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