Every cause has its champion; whether you are talking civil rights, women’s rights or any number of fights that took place that helped shape our country. Every cause has its champion and for the “unclaimed” bodies that are used by the state anatomy board without prior consent, their champion, their voice continues to be Heather Lynette Sinclair.
On Monday, June 19, the Maryland Anatomy Board held it’s ceremony at the Springfield Hospital Center to honor those who donated their bodies for the benefit of medical research. Unlike years prior, the event took place inside one of the buildings on the grounds. Also unlike last year, there was slight confusion as to when the event would take place as interested parties received conflicting information when calling the anatomy board inquiring as to the date of this year’s ceremony.
Another interesting tidbit from this year’s ceremony was the listing of a West Virginia Delegate as giving the governor’s proclamation. Delegate Gary Howell was listed on the program and not only was he unaware of his name being included, he was not present at the ceremony.
Otherwise, the event played out as it has year after year; many believing that every body being used by the anatomy board was donated by the individual prior to death or that “unclaimed” means that no one bothered to take responsibility for the body. However, Sinclair knows that just isn’t the case. She attended the ceremony before her organized silent protest that was held outside at the ceremony’s conclusion. She was joined by a group of other individuals holding signs to have their voice heard and to raise awareness of the issue.
Sinclair supports body donation, but she also believes body donation should always be by choice and not by default. Through her extensive research, she uncovered that the anatomy board is not checking missing persons registries nor are they searching for next of kin, something that Ronn Wade, director of the anatomy board, confirms. Various news articles have been written detailing instances where relatives have located their missing loved one only to discover that their body had been listed as unclaimed and had already been cut up, used, and then cremated. Sinclair wants to put a safety mechanism in place to prevent such instances from happening.
Nancy’s Law, a bill created and championed by Sinclair, would extend the 72-hour period to 14 days to allow relatives more time in locating and making final arrangements for their loved ones. It also prohibits anyone who is responsible for the death of the individual from having the right of final disposition of the body; it forces the anatomy board to check missing persons registries as well as put the identifying details of the body on a national missing persons registry called NAMUS.
That bill died in committee during the 2016 legislative session.
“We totally support body donation,” Sinclair said. “But they call these unclaimed and they’re not contacting the families. We just want them to make reasonable and good faith efforts to contact the family and check with the missing persons registry.”