reinforced supervision following the Descartes “mass grave” scandal

The media fallout and the legal consequences of the Paris-Descartes University “mass grave” scandal, abuses linked to the conservation and use of the remains at the Center du don des corps, in Paris, have prompted the government to strengthen the supervision of the donation of bodies to science in the twenty-eight national establishments concerned, in application of the bioethics law of 2021.

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A decree of Wednesday April 27, published the next day in Official newspaperspecifies the procedures for receiving donors, with, in particular, the drafting of a revocable consent at any time co-signed by the person in charge of the body reception structure within the establishment mentioned”.

The donor, to whom “no sum of money can be requested by the establishment”, “may designate a reference person, among his family or relatives, who will be the interlocutor of the establishment”.

Concerning transport to the center after the death of the donor, the “expenses relating to the transport of the body” are now “fully paid for by the establishment having obtained the consent”. The largest anatomical center in France, founded in 1953 and attached to the Paris-Descartes University (became, in 2020, the University of Paris), the Body Donation Center let the families of the deceased pay the transport costs.

The center provided donors and their relatives with a list of five or six funeral carriers chosen by the administration of the establishment. And this, while several hundred authorized companies are listed on the prefectural lists in Ile-de-France.

“Many points to clarify”

According to the decree, “the establishment determines the most appropriate type of funeral operation depending on the nature of the activity carried out on the body. It takes into account the preference expressed by the donor when consenting to the donation and, where applicable, the request expressed by the reference person he has designated, by his family or relatives”.

The decree paves the way for the “restitution” of the remains or ashes to relatives, and sets the terms, “according to the nature of the activity practiced on the body”.

It provides for the setting up within the centers of a “ethics, scientific and educational committee responsible for issuing an opinion on medical training programs and research programs that involve the use of the donated body for medical education and research purposes”.

The revelations of The Express, in November 2019, on the abuses at the Body Donation Center (dismembered and unused bodies, power outages, mass incineration, proliferation of flies, worms and rats, etc.), prompted the Paris public prosecutor’s office to open a judicial information, in July 2020, relating to the conditions of conservation and provision of the bodies within the establishment. To date, two ex-preparers of the center have been indicted on the charge of “attacking the integrity of a corpse”, as well as the University of Paris and Frédéric Dardel, the former president of Paris-Descartes ( 2011-2019). These revelations prompted the Minister of Higher Education and Research, Frédérique Vidal, to order an inspection and to administratively close the center in November 2019.

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