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Fox 29 Investigates: Mother Says Son's Organs Were Removed During Autopsy

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PHILADELPHIA -

Fox 29 Investigates has the story of a Philadelphia woman desperate for answers.

She says her son's organs were removed during an autopsy in a city hospital.

Mary Anderson, a local pastor, says she wanted to learn what "killed" her loved one, but didn't expect his eyes and brain to be taken.

Fox 29’s Jeff Cole has the story.

Vance Anderson's final resting place is at aWest Oak Lane cemetery where his mother and sister come to mourn.

They remember him as warm and big-hearted.

“He was just a loving person. He showed love and he wanted love,” said his mother, Mary Anderson. “ I let him down. I feel guilty.”

However, they say their memory is stained.

Stained, by what they claim was the "desecration" of the 51 year old's body at one of the region's best known medical centers, Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

“They gutted him out,” said Anderson.

“They gutted him out without our consent,” said sister Jean Bullock.

“They took his brain. They took his eyes. They mutilated his body, desecrated his body. I can't put it into words how I felt,” said Anderson.

You heard right.

The family says, after Vance Anderson,who was uninsured, died of lung disease at Jefferson, his brain, eyes and organs were removed without their consent.

The startling claim is detailed in a lawsuit filed against the hospital in late May.

Glen Ellis is their lawyer.

“They believed, according to the doctor we spoke to, the organs were donated for educational purposes. They were not and after they were done they disposed them as hazardous waste something completely not consented to by the family,” said Ellis.

That same doctor, during questioning in the legal case and under oath, confirmed in full autopsies; organs are removed, retained at Jefferson and then disposed of.

Adding, it's been hospital practice for 44 years.

“He is just a shell. Part of him,where is it in the garbage or somewhere? Where's he at ?” said Anderson.

So, what does Jefferson have to say about all this? Nothing. A hospital spokesperson told Fox 29 it's because they've been sued. Fox 29 Investigates asked if Jefferson would answer questions by e-mail. The answer again, no.

From the lawsuit and documents reviewed by Fox 29, here's what we know:

Mary Anderson wanted an autopsy to find-out what killed her son.

According to the lawsuit, she talked-it-over with Jefferson doctors and then signed a Autopsy Permission Request.

The words on it appear in small print.

They grant Jefferson the right to:

"remove such organs, parts of organs, or tissue deemed necessary."

It allows Jefferson to: "retain tissue for medical research," and says, "portions of the body will be removed and preserved"

And it states the person signing-off has been told the condition the body will be in when delivered to the undertaker.

The family attorney says that never happened.

“Nowhere at no time was this family told that they would receive a shell of their son. A shell of their brother,” said Ellis.

Ellis tells Fox 29 his clients did not read what he calls the "fine, small print on the autopsy request form."

But both Anderson's mother and sister say they were never told by Jefferson doctors about the large-scale removal of organs, and that later they'd would be tossed-out.

And their attorney says the document does not make it clear.

Mary Anderson says she only learned of the condition of her son's body when her undertaker took a look at it.

“They treat him worse than they treat a dog,” said Anderson.

And there's something else.

According to the city, the medical examiner's office does between 1,300 and 1,600 autopsies a year.

95% of them are full autopsies just like what was done to Vance Anderson.

We asked what happens to the organs.

The answer:"with rare exception, they're returned to the body"

Again, Jefferson declined comment due to the lawsuit, but it seems clear from the legal documents the hospital believed it had permission to use the organs for educational purposes. The family says they certainly did not.

 

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