Sabatini's reaction to remarks shocks mummy project chief

June 19, 1994|By From Staff Reports

A University of Maryland medical school official said yesterday that he was "shocked" at the state health secretary's suggestion that he should be fired for his remarks about his project to mummify a Maryland man.

Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini did not take issue with the mummy project itself. But, on Friday he said that Ronald S. Wade, director of the anatomical service division at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, should be fired for what Mr. Sabatini called Mr. Wade's "poor taste" and "insensitivity" in describing the experiment to The Sun.

"One reason I was picked for this job, is that I'm not a scientist, I'm not insensitive," Mr. Wade said. "I was a funeral director.

"I didn't get one call from a family member or a donor-to-be. I've gotten nothing but positive comments. For someone to say I'm insensitive about donors, he's way out in left field," he said.

"The comments and the cavalier handling of this thing was totally unprofessional and showed a lack of judgment and poor taste. I think the anatomy board is being poorly served by its director," Mr. Sabatini said Friday.

As director of the anatomical service division, Mr. Wade also is executive director of the Maryland Anatomy Board, which provides bodies for medical research. The university has the hiring, firing and salary responsibility for Mr. Wade. Mr. Sabatini has no jurisdiction over him.

The Sun published an article Thursday describing the mummy project, apparently the first time the exact procedures used by the ancient Egyptians have been replicated in modern times. Working in the basement of the medical school, Mr. Wade and a New York professor of ancient philosophy last month began preserving the body of a 76-year-old Baltimore area man who had donated his body to medical research.

Mr. Sabatini said he will urge the anatomy board and Donald Wilson, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, to fire Mr. Wade.

Christopher Ruff, the former chairman and an outgoing member of the anatomy board, dismissed Mr. Sabatini's criticisms as "superficial." He defended Mr. Wade's comments and praised him for turning the board into a national model for providing specimens to medical science.

"Ron Wade has, in my opinion, done a spectacular job," said Mr. Ruff, who teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "I think it would really be outrageous to suggest that he should be fired for something like this."

Dr. Wilson, who gave Mr. Wade permission for the mummy project, declined to comment about Mr. Sabatini's remarks. Vicki Strittmater, a spokeswoman for the medical school, said that when she told the dean about Mr. Sabatini's complaints, he did not agree with the health secretary.

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