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What To Learn From The Yale Severed Head Selfie

Harkness Tower on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. A group of dental students and a University of Connecticut professor took a selfie with two severed cadaver heads during a symposium at Yale School of Medicine.
Beth J. Harpaz/AP

A group of dental students and a University of Connecticut professor are being condemned after a selfie they took with two severed cadaver heads last summer surfaced this week. 

The selfie was taken last June at Yale School of Medicine during a surgical workshop on dental-related facial deformities and was obtained by the Associated Press (AP). Medical ethicist Art Caplan called the photo disrespectful on Boston Public Radio Friday and gave some advice on how to ensure photos like this aren’t taken.

“When you got to work as a doctor, or a nurse, or a psychotherapist or social worker, put your iPhone away,” Caplan said. “Don’t take pictures of anything, anybody, at any time, for any reason.”

Dr. Flavio Uribe, an assistant professor and orthodontics program director at UConn Health, was featured in the photo and told the AP that the picture was taken while he was teaching students how to put screws into heads.

"Somebody, unfortunately, took a photo," Uribe said. "It was so quick. I wasn't sure of the surroundings or scenery at that point."

“The photograph, taken at a symposium at Yale, was disturbing and an inexcusable deviation from anything Yale would expect to occur,” a spokesperson for Yale said in a statement Monday. 

Caplan worries that the photo may deter people from donating their organs or body to science for fear that their bodies may also be mistreated.

“What we want to do to is tell people, if you donate your body or body parts to education research, it is going to be treated respectfully," he said.

Medical Ethicist Art Caplan is head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and the co-host of the Everyday Ethics podcast. To hear the entire interview, click on the audio link above.


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