Prude Death Investigation

Michigan mother thought she was gifting newborn’s body to science, lawsuit 4 years later

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Perry Funeral Home in Michigan_1540344186142.jpg.jpg

Early one December morning in 2014, Rachel Brown gave birth to a girl in Detroit’s Harper-Hutzel Hospital.Immediately after she was born, the little girl, Alayah, experienced respiratory distress and died some 30 minutes later.

Her mother said a hospital worker approached her and her husband about gifting the newborn’s body to Wayne State University Medical School for science and research. Brown agreed.

Nearly four years later, Brown said Alayah’s body never made it to the medical school and still has not been laid to rest.

All this comes from a lawsuit Brown filed in July. In it, she alleges that the hospital instead gave Alayah’s body to a Detroit funeral home, and may have helped authorities discover the remains of 63 infants at Perry Funeral Home on Friday. It was the second instance in which authorities said fetal or infant remains were improperly kept at a Detroit funeral home this month.

The attorneys of Alayah’s parents said they contacted police about their lawsuit a day before the Perry Funeral Home raid, and Detroit’s police chief told reporters Friday the raid came as a result of a plaintiff’s tip.

“There wouldn’t be a criminal investigation if we had not come forward,” Brown’s attorney Peter Parks said over the weekend.

The lawsuit alleges that the hospital, funeral home and others committed intentional acts or omissions “so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

According to the complaint, Harper-Hutzel Hospital, part of the Detroit Medical Center alliance of providers, gave Alayah’s remains to Perry Funeral Home in May 2015 — about six months after her death — after falsely telling the home that the remains had been unclaimed or abandoned by the parents.

The lawsuit also accuses Perry of negligence, saying it never made final disposition of the body as required by state law, and instead retained custody of the remains for three years. For at least part of that time, Perry kept them at a Wayne State mortuary sciences morgue — operated separately from the medical school — where Perry has storage privileges, the lawsuit says.

Perry also negligently failed to contact Brown, “whose identity and whereabouts (were) readily available,” the suit alleges.

Police and license inspectors who raided Perry Funeral Home Friday found the remains of 63 infants, the Detroit Police Department said.

Thirty-seven of the dead fetuses or infants were found in three unrefrigerated boxes, police and the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, known as LARA, said. Twenty-six were in a freezer, police said.

Brown’s attorneys have not said whether Alayah’s remains were among those found Friday, where her remains are currently, or how Brown learned that the remains didn’t go to Wayne State for research. Parks, in an email to CNN on Tuesday, declined to comment further about the case.

Police haven’t publicly identified any of the remains or commented on how they came to be there. But LARA said it has suspended the funeral home’s mortuary science license, and Detroit Police Chief James Craig said his department is investigating.

LARA said some of the remains found at Perry Funeral Home on Friday were fetuses or infants that died about three years ago.

Michigan law said funeral directors generally must supervise a body’s final disposition within 60 days of receiving it. Those who don’t may be found guilty of at least a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in prison.

For bodies improperly kept beyond 180 days, a director could be charged with a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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