Two graduate students and a professor from the University of Connecticut took a selfie with two severed human heads donated for research during a workshop at Yale last year, according to a Feb. 5 report by the Associated Press.
According to the AP, the photograph, taken last June during a symposium held at the Yale Medical School, shows two graduate dental school students and Flavio Uribe — a UConn Health orthodontics program director and visiting associate professor at Yale — all donning surgical masks and looking at a camera as they stood beside the two heads, face-up on tables.
The AP reported that it obtained a copy of the photo from someone who found it in a private group chat, but the AP said the person who took the selfie would not give permission to publish it, for fear of retaliation.
Uribe told the AP that he was instructing the students on how to place screws in a cadaver’s head when the photo was taken. He said the photo was snapped so quickly that he was not “sure of the surroundings or scenery at that point.”
University spokesman Tom Conroy told the News that, though Yale neither ran the workshop nor owned the severed heads, the University is currently developing a centralized coordinating function for oversight of its cadaver procedures. The laboratory had signs prohibiting photography in the area, and a faculty member involved in the training has been informed of Yale’s expectations, he added. The outside group using Yale space for the training had agreed to follow Yale’s rules. According to Conroy, the graduate students were non-Yale affiliates receiving training.
“The photograph taken at a symposium at Yale was disturbing and an inexcusable deviation from anything Yale would expect to occur,” he said. “The School of Medicine took this issue very seriously and has undertaken steps to ensure that this type of occurrence could not happen again at Yale.”
University of Connecticut Health information officer Lauren Woods referred the News to a comment from UConn Health’s chief communications officer, Christopher Hyers, in the AP story. Hyers said that “UConn Health was made aware of the matter at the time it happened and took appropriate internal steps” but did not comment further on what these steps were.
Lawrence Rizzolo, former director of medical studies at Yale, told the News that the University recently introduced a policy requiring all lab users to sign a document before entering to acknowledge that they understand and will abide by the rules of conduct. Out of respect for the people who donate their remains to the medical school, cadavers are referred to as “the donor,” and, every year, students organize a “Service-of-Gratitude” to honor the donors and their families, Rizzolo said.
Although pictures are allowed in the lab on some occasions under strict supervision, Rizzolo added, no faces or identifiable marks of the donor can be photographed.
The Yale School of Medicine was established in 1810.
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