A wife sued after she found that the Stanley Medical Research Institute purchased the brain of her husband who had passed away from a brain aneurism.
Anne Mozingo, of York, Maine learned that the research institute not only removed his brain, but also his spleen, liver and pituitary gland. Ms. Mozingo says that she suffered severe emotional and mental distress and had terrible nightmares about her husband’s body being mutilated. She said she gave permission for them to take some brain-tissue samples, but that’s it.
She is one of several people who sued the institute, which is run by the famous E. Fuller Torrey, MD, whose views about mental illness are considered controversial by some and who is a hero to others. The institute researches bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and often does brain research.
Views about death and dead people’s bodies and souls vary from culture to culture and century to century, from embalming and mummification techniques to funeral pyres and cremation. Nothing except the end of life in this world (and maybe, the very beginning of life) holds such an awesome place in our spiritual beliefs.
Most world cultures prepare the body for burial with respect and care. In our own, the body of the one who has died is treated with the utmost respect and gentleness and prepared for burial with tender prayers and simple, physical preparations that involve no mutilation, make-up, or other interventions that change the nature of the body. Removing an organ after death is contrary to our beliefs and the beliefs of millions of people of different religions world-wide.
Perhaps it’s not an over-simplification to say that there are two general viewpoints (which of course, lead to a variety of different customs). The first is that we are bodies only, our personalities, our very essence is merely a function of our brains. Once the body dies, that’s it. There is no longer any “being.” If the body is treated with reverence after death, this is due to largely to comfort the mourners who related to and loved this brain-within-a-body during life.
The other viewpoint is that the body is a vessel for the soul, which will live on in some other form and in some other place that we have yet to experience. The body may be either considered empty and without purpose after death or it might itself be considered to retain some measure of purpose. Either way, these beliefs will help inform how it is treated.
Meanwhile, we sympathize with Ms. Mozingo. Although we (most likely) don’t share a religion, we do share a profound belief that she had the right to decide what would happen to her husband’s body and brain.