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Spanish uni home to 250 'forgotten' corpses

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Spain's El Mundo described seeing a pair of "black feet" on the "lid of a rubbish bin" in the basement of the medical faculty of the Complutense University of Madrid. Photo: Wikimedia
14:43 CEST+02:00
Hundreds of dead bodies, originally donated to science, have been left to sit at room temperature in the basement of a Spanish university for years, a major Spanish newspaper reported on Monday.

Spain's El Mundo described it as the stuff of nightmares, a genuine chamber of horrors, and even like something from the hit television show The Walking Dead.

Piled up in the basement of the Anatomy and Embryology department of Madrid's Complutense University are an estimated 250 corpses, leftovers from student experiments.

The bodies donated to the university are jumbled up in a room which measures around 30 square metres (323 square feet), El Mundo said.

The paper described seeing a pair of unlabelled "black feet" on the "lid of a rubbish bin", and published graphic images of the set-up showing random body parts filling the basement. Some photographs even displayed lines of "mummified" corpses lined up on a shelf.

But staff at the university told the daily the arrangements were in order.

"We are not rich and there is no health risk," department director Ramón Mérida told the daily, while admitting that some of the bodies had been stored for "up to five years".

"The member of staff who operated the (incinerating) oven took early retirement in December and we haven't been able to advertise the position because the unions say the oven is in poor condition," Mérida explained.

Those unions say the oven, installed in 1991, emits poisonous gases. They have also denounced overall conditions in the basement.

But the department director is adamant there is no danger. "Infected bodies" are "incinerated immediately", he explained.

"Everything is being fixed: the civil servant who retired early will use the 40 days a year he has to work to burn the remains and the rest will be taken to other ovens," he said.

The Complutense University on Monday also officially responded to the El Mundo piece saying a solution had been found for the problem: a funeral company would start removing the bodily remains in the next few days.

"In addition, the images (printed by El Mundo) give a distorted image of the reality," the university said in a statement, adding the newspaper had secretly taken the photographs in a restricted area.

The images of "mummies" showed body parts that were being dried before being incinerated because those remains "can't be incinerated straightaway as they contain chemical products", the university explained.

The university said it followed all protocols correctly and that it had already launched an investigation into the matter.   

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While the Spanish Anatomy Society has guidelines on the storage of bodies donated to science, there is no formal legal framework.

Madrid's Health Department said its laws only dealt with burials, autopsies and the transfer of bodies, while the Education Department said universities were independent institutions and outside of their control.    

Meanwhile, the Complutense University keeps receiving new bodies — up to 50 a year.

More people are donating their bodies to science as a way of avoiding funeral costs, an added burden during Spain's crisis, Spain's El País reported on Saturday. 

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