June 13, 2005
Deposition reveals medical examiner's knowledge of donations
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORTLAND, Maine - A former state funeral home inspector was not an employee of the state medical examiner's office but enjoyed unsupervised access to files and sometimes helped prepare bodies for autopsies, according to the state's chief medical examiner.
Dr. Margaret Greenwald's statements came in a sworn deposition in response to a lawsuit that claims the former funeral home inspector, Matthew Cyr, acted inappropriately in securing donations of brains to a Maryland research lab.
Over the past 14 months, 10 families have filed lawsuits saying they did not consent to the donation of their loved ones' brains. Cyr has denied wrongdoing.
Greenwald's testimony adds new details to a slowly emerging picture of lax oversight at the state medical examiner's office between 1999 and 2003, according to the Portland Press Herald, which reviewed a copy of her deposition.
Chuck Dow, spokesman for the attorney general's office, which oversees the chief medical examiner, defended Greenwald's actions while noting that she helped to draft a new policy on the release of human organs and tissue.
Dow said Greenwald viewed herself simply as facilitating organ donations by granting Cyr access to medical examiner files.
"Dr. Greenwald believes that accommodating people involved with facilitating anatomical gifts for transplant and research is both lawful and wise from a public health perspective," Dow told the newspaper.
From 1998-2004, Cyr worked for the state Office of Licensing and Registration as part-time inspector of funeral homes. Between 2001 and 2004, he was also under contract to answer night and weekend calls to the Medical Examiner's Office.
During that time, he also was paid by the Stanley Medical Research Institute for obtaining permission for brains to be donated to the laboratory in Bethesda, Md., which does research on the causes of mental illness.
Cyr, of Bucksport, had a role in sending at least 99 brains from deceased Mainers to the research laboratory. Some of the families say he misled them, or worse lied, to obtain permission for the organ donations.
Sheri Alpert, an expert in bioethics who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, said after reading Greenwald's testimony that someone should have done more to oversee Cyr.
"It's not clear whose responsibility it was to watch over the hen house there," Alpert said.
Greenwald didn't believe it was her job to oversee Cyr's methods, and she had no reason to question how he operated, according to her testimony.
According to Greenwald's testimony, Cyr was not required to provide officials with a consent form before he shipped a brain to the Stanley Institute. Eventually, Cyr was supposed to provide the consent forms. But there was no time frame set for him to do so, Greenwald said.
That testimony may explain why at least 31 consent forms were missing last year from state files. Since then, the Stanley Institute says it has given copies of dozens of additional consent forms to authorities, who are investigating.
However, the validity of the consent forms themselves has been called into question, since they are not signed by the families.
Greenwald said she knew the research lab's payments to Cyr depended on the number of brains he collected. Cyr was paid $1,000 to $2,000 per brain. Bioethicists criticize per-organ payments because they offer a financial incentive to act unethically.
Greenwald said she authorized two of her employees to accept payment for helping Cyr harvest brains, as long as they were not working on state time.
State Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, sponsor of a new law on organ and tissue donation, said the problems of the past are being addressed. And he expressed confidence in Greenwald, who is seeking reappointment to