Bodies left at the Cook County medical examiner’s office for longer than two weeks will be donated to a medical research organization, according to a memo from the county’s chief medical examiner.
The Sept. 27 memo obtained by the Tribune instructs investigators with the medical examiner’s office investigators to notify hospitals, police and other reporting agencies to tell families who claim there are no funds for burial that “the remains of the deceased will be released to the Anatomic Gift Association within two weeks of receipt by the medical examiner’s Office.”
In cases where next of kin is not found, police must make “all efforts” to locate and notify a relative. Within two weeks, those bodies will also be donated, according to the memo from Nancy L. Jones, the county’s chief medical examiner.
The memo says the practice was to go into effect immediately. The only exception will be bodies that are decomposed, are infected with the AIDS virus or weigh more than 300 pounds, the memo states.
"It is important that all reporting agencies be asked about the HIV status, weight and state of decomposition of all cases reported as no kin, no funds or for storage," the memo says.
The Anatomical Gift Association is a clearinghouse for corpses donated for the purpose of education and research.
Since its creation in 1918 by a group of schools that believed human dissections were central to an aspiring doctor's training, the organization has prepared, stored and distributed more than 40,000 cadavers to train about 70,000 medical students statewide.
The association also handles the subsequent cremation and buries the ashes.
The agreement between the medical examiner's office and the AGA signed Sept. 15, 2010 calls for the office to notify the association if it has a body that no relative or legal representative has come forward to claim and that may have to be buried at public expense.
The AGA must respond within 48 hours as to whether it will take the remains, according to the agreement.
If 14 days pass at the medical examiner's offce and the AGA takes the body, it is required to hold it 21 days before it can embalm it. If after another 60 days "no relatives, friends, guardians, next of kin have been located for consent," the organization will be able to use the body "for the promotion of medical and anatomical science," the agreement states.
It was not clear why Jones' memo was issued more than a year after the agreement was sealed.
There was no immediate comment from county officials about the arrangement with the association.
In February, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sharply criticized the way the bodies of the indigent are disposed of.
Dart charged that as many as 26 fetuses and stillborn babies were buried in a single pauper's coffin.
He also claimed that indigent and unidentified dead were stacked eight deep in unmarked taxpayer-funded plots, so vaguely recorded that bodies could never be found, possibly hampering police investigations.
Jones responded at the time by saying her staff "respectfully" placed multiple baby remains in a single adult coffin.
Dart said he wasn't holding Jones responsible but said "I find it horribly offensive ... these mothers signing their fetuses away for indigent burial weren't properly informed."