Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Brain-Harvesting Scam Netted $150K

This is just strange. How did it go on for so long?

An investigation of suspected brain harvesting within Maine’s medical examiner’s office has ended without any criminal charges, state and federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

At least 99 brains were sent from the medical examiner’s office to the Stanley Institute, which uses its brain bank for research on the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, from 1999 to 2003. More than a dozen families have sued, alleging the brains were removed without their consent.

The lawsuits in Maine target the Stanley Institute; Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, its founder; and Matthew Cyr, the former state funeral inspector within the medical examiner’s office who was paid more than $150,000 to collect the brains. All have denied wrongdoing

I really hope that this kind of thing won’t discourage people from donating their bodies and brains to science. Much of what we know about Alzheimer’s and many other neurological disorders is from post-mortem examinations of brains. I for one would be honored that my noodle might benefit science after my demise!


  1. #1 John McKay
    January 25, 2007

    “Brains removed without consent” sounds like a setup for no end of predictable political or celebrity jokes.

  2. #2 steve
    January 25, 2007

    I’ve been trying to get my hands on a brain in a jar for a while for my office… perhaps I should call these people..
    really though! where the hell does one buy a brain?!?!?

  3. #3 darius
    January 26, 2007

    One buys brains mainly in Maine.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  4. #4 natural cynic
    January 26, 2007

    Perhaps they’re hiding Dr. Lecter who only will eat brains sauteed in butter and herbs. Or maybe experiments with zombies!!!

  5. #5 romunov
    January 26, 2007

    “Brains removed without consent”

    What, were they planning on eating them or something?

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    January 26, 2007

    I hear he also takes them with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

  7. #7 Peter Scott
    January 28, 2007

    $1,500 a brain? I knew restaurant prices were steep but I didn’t think they were that bad. Though if you were to slice it thin with a little sauce you might get a 100 sevings out of one. At $20 a pop thats a fair profit, and if you cut it thinner. OK maybe its not that expensive.

  8. #8 Chris
    July 25, 2007

    I actually heard about this one. Does being a “donor” imply that your brain can also be taken? They don’t get that specific on the DMV questions regarding it.

    SB: No, they can only take organs that could be used to save someone else’s life. Donating your body to science, though, is a bit different and means that you give all your body parts (medical class, surgery practice, study anatomy, etc).

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