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Judge Dismisses Families’ Claims In Harvard Morgue Scandal

A Massachusetts judge dismissed civil claims towards Harvard University and some of its faculty that were made by families who claimed that the university is partially to blame for the actions of a former medical school morgue manager, who allegedly stole and sold corpses and body parts.


The class action lawsuit was originally filed in June 2023 after the former morgue employee was criminally charged. In the lawsuit, the families who claimed the donated cadavers were mishandled accused Harvard of not properly caring for and keeping track of the remains.


Lawyers for the families argued in their lawsuits that both the university and Lodge’s supervisors were blind on purpose to the illegal operations in the morgue for at least five years — which is the period that prosecutors claim Lodge stole and sold the remains of the families’ loved ones.


But in an order issued February 12, 2024, Superior Court Justice Judge Kenneth Salinger ruled that there is not enough evidence to claim that the university’s leadership “failed to act in good faith” with their handling of the bodies, and granted the university’s motion to dismiss 12 cases brought against it.


The judge also dismissed the claims against two employees of Harvard Medical School’s Anatomical Gift Program, Mark Cicchetti and Tracey Fay. The families’ claims against the former morgue manager, Cedric Lodge, were permitted to continue.


The judge ruled that Harvard’s president and senior faculty, along with Ciccheti and Fay, don’t have to take legal responsibility for Lodge’s alleged actions and are protected by Massachusetts’ laws regarding anatomical gifts. 


The immunity provided by the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1971 (UAGA) would not be broken by trying to demonstrate negligence on Harvard’s part. All that is required for immunity is whether the institution attempted in good faith to comply with the law, no matter if it was successful in doing so.


The Anatomical Gift Act was created to protect doctors and institutions that work quickly to facilitate time-sensitive organ donations for high-priority patients. However, it fails to take into account theft and criminal activity regarding organs and body parts.


Kathryn Barnett, an attorney representing several families, said she is “disappointed in the Court’s decision,” and plans to appeal the ruling. 


Lodge was charged in June 2023 over the alleged theft and trafficking of human remains between 2018 and early 2023. He conspired with his wife to sell them, according to a federal indictment. 


Along with Lodge and his wife, two alleged buyers of the remains have also been charged in the case. Prosecutors are calling their participation just one part of a national network of human remains to trade. Lodge has pleaded not guilty to the charge.


After Lodge was charged, Harvard University fired the morgue manager for the “abhorrent betrayal” of Harvard’s trust.

Harvard has yet to produce a report it self-commissioned regarding examining the Anatomical Gift program’s security procedures and daily operations. That report was due in October 2023.


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