HD8 - Report of the Workgroup to Explore the Feasibility of Using Donated Human Remains for Canine Training for Search and Rescue Operations in Virginia

Executive Summary:
*This report was replaced in its entirety by the Department of Health on November 15, 2016.

House Bill 202 from the 2016 session of the Virginia General Assembly required the Virginia Department of Health to convene a workgroup to (1) identify and evaluate options for using human remains donated to search and rescue teams and organizations as anatomical gifts for the purpose of training dogs to find human remains during search and rescue operations and (2) establish policies and procedures to govern the process of using anatomical gifts for such purpose. The Chief Medical Examiner and the Operational Director for the Virginia State Anatomical Program (VSAP) convened The Canine Search and Rescue Operations (SAR) Workgroup to explore the feasibility of using donated human anatomical materials to train canines used in search and rescue operations in Virginia.

Members of the Workgroup concluded that working through VSAP is the most feasible way to get donated human remains to canine search and rescue teams for purposes of training the dogs for mass disasters and other search and rescue operations in Virginia. VSAP provides human remains that have been donated for teaching anatomy and surgery and for medical research to the State’s medical schools, colleges, universities, and research facilities. Most importantly, VSAP is the only entity authorized to receive such donations in Virginia.

Workgroup members agreed that the Commonwealth should begin to build the capacity of its SAR cadaver dog teams to respond more effectively to mass disasters, and that it would be optimal to build a full library of scents and samples of materials that would be available for use by all Virginia SAR Teams. Canine search and rescue teams can be an important asset to individuals and families during Amber Alerts, searches for missing persons, and other mass disasters. At the same time, it is critical that the highest standards of transparency and ethics be followed with anatomical donors and their families.

While this potential new use for donated human anatomical materials is feasible through the VSAP program, there is still a great deal of work to be done. It will take much more time to create policies, procedures, and protocols for using VSAP materials for SAR cadaver dog training. Creation of a Virginia-based canine search and rescue training program will require further planning and coordination. The Workgroup offers three recommendations as significant steps in moving this process forward in Virginia:

1. The Virginia Department of Health’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner should convene a meeting of Workgroup members and representatives from medical schools and other entities currently using donated anatomic materials through the Virginia State Anatomical Program. The purpose of this meeting would be to introduce the efforts and needs of canine search and rescue groups and to explore possibilities for working together in the future.

2. The Virginia Search and Rescue Council and representatives from independent Search and Rescue groups should convene a workgroup of key stakeholders to develop policies and procedures for obtaining, transporting, storing, and disposing of donated human anatomical materials to train canines for search and rescue operations involving dead bodies. Stakeholders should include representatives from canine search and rescue groups (both independent and those operating under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management), and staff from the Virginia Department of Health’s Virginia State Anatomical Program. The resulting policies and procedures must meet all Virginia statute and regulatory requirements that are applicable to the operations of the Virginia State Anatomical Program.

3. The Virginia Department of Health’s State Anatomical Program should review and amend its policies, procedures, brochures, and forms to allow and to offer potential donors the choice of donating their bodies for training exercises conducted by canine search and rescue groups through the Program.