Wednesday, May 11, 2005

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Four more lawsuits were filed Tuesday against a Maryland research laboratory and its founder by families that said their dead relatives’ brains were taken without proper authorization.

Eight lawsuits have been filed in total against Stanley Medical Research Institute of Bethesda. The Lewiston law firm of Berman & Simmons, which has filed the lawsuits, said it expected to file a ninth case yesterday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The Tuesday lawsuits, filed in Cumberland, Penobscot and Somerset county superior courts, make accusations that are similar to those in the previous lawsuits.

The surviving family members, from South Portland to northern Penobscot County, said they received phone calls in the hours after their loved ones died and the bodies had been transported to the state medical examiner’s office for autopsies.

Each family said it was not asked to donate the entire brain, but instead something smaller, like a sample of brain tissue, or that the request was not clear.

“This isn’t a finger. This isn’t an eye. This is their brain,” said Steven Silin, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “I think any feeling person would find these facts horrific. And similarly, any thinking person is going to conclude that these defendants acted recklessly and for their own personal or professional gain.”

Byrne Decker, a Portland lawyer who represents the Stanley Institute and its founder, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, said he had not seen the new lawsuits. He reiterated that his clients always acted in good faith.

Also named as defendants in the cases were Matthew Cyr, the state’s one-time funeral inspector who was paid $1,000 to $2,000 by the Stanley Institute for each brain donation he solicited in Maine, and Lorie Stevens, who often signed documents as a witness to the family’s consent.

Attorneys for Mr. Cyr could not be reached for comment. Joseph Baiungo, a Belfast lawyer who represents Miss Stevens, said his client’s involvement in the brain-harvesting operation was limited.

From 1999 to 2003, at least 99 brains were sent from the state medical examiner’s office to the Stanley Institute, which uses its brain bank for research on the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Last fall, state and federal prosecutors opened investigations after two families complained that they did not agree to donate whole brains. No criminal charges have been filed.

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