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Researchers win in lawsuit over brain collection

ALFRED, Maine — A jury on Monday ruled against a Maine woman who said a prestigious research institute removed her late husband’s brain without her consent.

A jury in York County Superior Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and its Maine representative, Matthew Cyr. The Bethesda-based institute collected brains for use in the study of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In her lawsuit, Anne Mozingo, of York, said her husband’s entire brain was removed after he died of a brain aneurism in 2000. She said she had agreed to donate only tissue samples.

Philip Coffin, who represented the institute in the trial, said it’s common to use the word “organ” for a living organ like a heart, while referring to others used for research as “tissue.”

Coffin said Mozingo tried to make it seem as though the institute, Cyr and Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, the institute’s former executive director, were in the business of “illegitimately gotten body parts.”

“That’s just not true,” he said.

From the mid-1990s until the middle of last decade, Stanley Medical Research Institute used a network of “brain harvesters” in Maine and three other states to collect hundreds of brains for use in the study of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The institute’s brain-harvesting practices came under scrutiny after Mozingo and a number of other people came forward claiming Cyr, who lives in Bucksport, had arranged to have their relatives’ full brains removed after they had agreed to have only samples of brain tissue removed.

More than a dozen lawsuits were filed against the institute by Maine families, with most being settled out of court.

Mozingo’s was the third case to go before a jury. The first one resulted in a mistrial in January 2010. A jury last fall ruled in favor of the institute.