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Local News

Elwood woman's ashes withheld by body donation company: lawsuit

JOLIET – The family of an Elwood woman has sued an organ donation company they say has not returned her cremated remains.

The family of Kathleen McLaughlin filed a complaint Thursday in Will County court against Schiller Park-based Biological Resource Center of Illinois and affiliated companies, claiming that if McLaughlin’s cremation occurred, the center hasn’t delivered her ashes as agreed.

Attorney Michael Gahan, who is representing the family, said the lawsuit stems from an FBI investigation earlier this year that found Biological Resource Center was selling body parts.

A message on the company’s website indicates it closed July 31, but “will proceed with the burials of cremated remains in our donor memorial garden.”

Before McLaughlin died Nov. 29, she told her children she wanted to donate her lungs for medical research with the hope “scientists could learn something from her condition that might cure or ... ease the suffering of someone else,” Gahan said.

McLaughlin signed consent forms to donate her body, which required the defendant to cremate her remains after scientific study was performed and return the ashes to her daughter, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stated Biological Resource Center staff told the family late last year an urn containing the remains would be delivered within 30 days.

In January, federal agents raided the crematorium to find thousands of body parts and tissue samples allegedly to be sold on the black market, according to media reports.

“We believe [the remains] that were found include Mrs. McLaughlin,” Gahan said.

The lawsuit accuses Biological Resource Center of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful disposition of a body, illegal disposition of remains and two counts of fraud. The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $50,000 in compensation.

“[The family] is looking for closure,” Gahan said. “If there was to be a cremation, it hasn’t taken place, or the ashes need to be returned to the family.”

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