• Fetus found in Museum basement

    By Marge Ann Jameson, 11-08-10

    A two-and-a-half month-old human fetus, forgotten for more than 50 years in the basement of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, has been brought to light. How long it has actually been in the basement is still a question.

    The fetus, preserved in solution in a specimen jar, is labeled simply “ossification classification.”  There is no date and no catalog number, and more importantly, no record of the fetus in the Museum archives.

    Museum Foundation employees have been going through storage lockers and cabinets in the Museum’s basement over recent months, as part of conducting a meticulous inventory of every one of the more than 53,300 objects on display and in storage. As employees go through the inventory, they check records and catalogue each item in the Museum’s collection.

    But the fetus was not in the Museum’s collection records.  There is no record of how it was obtained, nor any sign that it was ever accessioned. “Therefore, it is not part of the Museum collection, and thus is the responsibility of the City rather than the Museum Foundation,” said City Manager Tom Frutchey.

    Without the needed documentation and with no record of legal transfer
    — either in or out — the matter was turned over to the City Manager by Museum Director Lori Mannel. Frutchey in turn took the necessary steps, and, deeming the police department the proper agency to deal with human remains, called Cdr. John Nyunt, who last week took possession of the fetus, using appropriate chain of custody procedures.  It remains in police custody while the City determines the next steps that will be most respectful of the fetus and most appropriate for the Museum, given the uncertain history.

    Mannel contacted Vern Yadon, who became director of the Museum in 1957. Yadon said that he recalled the specimen, and that it predated his tenure, but that he thought he had removed it from the Museum in 1958.

    The next step has yet to be taken.

    “We need to show due respect for this fetus, as human remains,” said Frutchey.  “Museum ethics and standards of human decency require our best efforts.”

    He believes that there are two primary options available. The first would be to legally access it into the Museum’s collection, but there is no record of where it came from or how it came to be in the cabinet. The term “ossification classification” appears to mark it as part of a study of bone growth, but such work is not part of the Museum’s purview.

    “A fetus is not a central part of the Museum’s mission or exhibits,” said Frutchey. “This is the only one we have.”

    The other respectful option, he says, would be to find an educational or cultural institution which could benefit from having the fetus, either for research or educational purposes.  Frutchey expects to decide on the appropriate course in the next week.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 8, 2010

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Marge Ann Jameson

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