(CN) – A California appeals court ruled that the University of California, Los Angeles has no legal obligation to a body donor’s relatives, who accused UCLA of conspiring to sell donated bodies for profit instead of spreading the ashes in a rose garden, as promised.
Ruth Waters decided to donate her body to the Willed Body Program because working on cadavers had been helpful to her in her career as a nurse.
UCLA allegedly told Waters’ family that her body would be used for research and then cremated, and that her remains would be scattered in a rose garden at El Toro Memorial Park.
After Waters died in 2001, her family awaited news of her cremation. Instead, they learned that two men connected to the Willed Body Program had been arrested and charged with participating in a scheme to sell body parts. A court ordered the program shut down.
Waters’ family sued the Regents of the University of California for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming the rose garden promise was a lie meant to induce donations. They accused the regents of failing to properly handle and dispose of donated bodies, and of conspiring to illegally sell donated bodies and body parts for profit.
The regents sought to have the case dismissed, asserting immunity and claiming that the Waters family showed no evidence of emotional distress.
But the trial court sided with the family and allowed the claims to proceed.
The regents then appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles and won.
“Under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, the donee’s rights created by an anatomical gift are superior to the rights of others; and family members, such as plaintiffs, do not have the right to alter terms of the written donation agreement executed by the donor,” Justice Patti Kitching wrote.
“Because Ruth Waters’ donation was ‘irrevocable’ upon her death, plaintiffs could not enter an agreement with UCLA regarding Ruth Waters’ body, and representations UCLA made to plaintiffs did not create a duty to them.”
Justice H. Walter Croskey dissented, saying it was “clearly foreseeable that plaintiffs would suffer severe emotional distress if they learned that their decedent’s donated body was used and disposed in a manner contrary to the representations allegedly made to them.”