French academic charged over rotting bodies donated for research

·2-min read
Frederic Dardel, shown here in 2015, was charged with desecrating a corpse as part of a scandal that forced the closure of the Centre for Body Donations at Paris-Descartes University

The former president of a French university has been charged with defiling a corpse following shock revelations about the putrid conditions in which thousands of bodies donated to the faculty were kept, AFP learned on Monday.

Frederic Dardel's lawyer confirmed he had been charged on Friday after being questioned over the scandal that forced the closure of the the Centre for Body Donations at Paris-Descartes University.

In 2019, the government shut down the centre, heralded as a "temple of anatomy" for over half a century, after reports that bodies were left to rot, be gnawed by mice or even sold.

L'Express news magazine in November 2019 broke the story of what it described as a "mass grave in the heart of Paris."

It said that photographs taken in the cold room of the Centre for Body Donations showed macabre scenes of bodies "naked, dismembered, eyes open, piled up on a gurney.

The report described "bodies by the dozen in an indescribable jumble. Here, a decomposing leg dangles. There, another damaged, blackened and riddled with holes after being nibbled by mice."

- Bodies 'sold' -

Situated in Paris's historic Latin Quarter, the Centre for Body Donations was founded in 1953 and received hundreds of bodies a year before it was closed.

Unnamed sources told L'Express that while bodies had been stocked on top of each other for "decades", conditions had deteriorated sharply from 2013 on.

The magazine reported that one of the doors of the cold room was so rusty it no longer closed and that the air conditioning frequently broke down, forcing staff to incinerate some rotting bodies before they had been dissected.

It also revealed that bodies donated for teaching anatomy had been sold to private individuals or companies, with a limb going for up to 400 euros ($487) and a whole body for up to 900 euros.

The report, which was based on photographs taken inside the centre in 2016, caused a scandal.

In June 2020, a report by a government agency in charge of inspecting education facilities concluded that there had been "serious ethical breaches" in the management of the Centre for Body Donations.

The report noted that various warnings had gone unheeded up by management until 2018.

Two lab assistants have already been charged with violation of a corpse, as has Paris University, a new entity created in 2020 from the merger of Paris-Descartes University and a sister faculty.

Dardel had escaped censure until now.

After the centre was closed he was made a special advisor in the cabinet of Minister for Research Frederique Vidal and later appointed director of a unit at the state research facility CNRS.

His lawyer Marie-Alix Canu-Bernard argued that he had tirelessly lobbied the government to fund renovations of the centre, but that his appeals had gone unheard.

Speaking to AFP, she argued that the state, not Dardel, was guilty of neglect.

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