Scientists who used corpses as crash-test dummies in Austria could be jailed if convicted of violating the dignity of the dead.
Researchers at the Technical University of Graz used 21 bodies in tests carried out from 1994 to 2003.
During the tests, the bodies were placed in seats that moved with speeds up to 10mph before being stopped in an effort to simulate a rear-end collision.
Scientists observed how the bodies’ vertebrae, upper bodies and backs moved.
Anyone convicted in the case could face imprisonment for up to six months or a fine.
Horst Sigl, a prosecutor in the city of Graz, said authorities are investigating whether researchers at the gained consent from the families of the dead before using the corpses in the tests.
“The core of the problem is whether those used in the tests or their relatives gave permission,” he said.
Senarclens de Grancy, a spokeswoman for the university insisted that tests were carried out under strict ethical standards and said they did not disturb the peace of the dead.
“It’s not in any way a crash test as you might think about it. There is no car, there is no wall,” she said.
Using real corpses was crucial to help scientists develop a “dummy which is very similar to the human body, which reacts as the human body does”, she said.
The criminal investigation began after local media reported on the previous tests and on a request by the scientists to use more corpses, raising authorities’ concern that a crime might have been committed.
The researchers had asked to use more corpses but said they would not proceed with those tests unless an ethics committee gives its approval.