A fishing trip in Russia's Urals ended with cries of horror as a man found canisters filled with human fetuses, some already shaped to baby bodies.
Lids on the bright blue containers apparently unlocked as the canisters hit the ground, and many fetuses spilled out. The little bodies, no longer than 15 centimeters, shrank, turning into mummies.
Arriving Monday morning, police found 248 fetuses aged 12-16 weeks in and around the four canisters. Labels attached to tiny hands and legs listed family names of assumed mothers and some digit codes, which may refer to the pregnancy period, date of abortion or the hospital where the body originated from.
The 50-liter canisters filled with formalin seem to have been thrown out of a vehicle not far from a road leading to Nevyansk, a town on the slopes of the Ural Mountains.
Later it was revealed that the horrifying content was “biological waste” from at least three hospitals in Ekaterinburg, the region's major city.
“It appears a waste disposal company has failed to carry out its duties properly,” remark local authorities as the investigation continues. The Ministry of Health has been requested to determine which companies provide biological waste disposal services to Ekaterinburg hospitals.
In Russia, embryos and fetuses are subject to immediate disposal as they are classified high hazard waste. Prior to disposal, they are to be kept in special packages, not in canisters with formalin. It is also out of practice to attach labels with any information, at least in Ekaterinburg hospitals.
But the bodies found near the Urals not only fall out of this description – the labels show they may have been stored for over ten years.
Some medical experts believe the fetuses might have been meant for studies or other purposes, as they contain stem cells. The cells are widely used for immune illnesses treatment and in cosmetic procedures.
Investigators say all 248 fetuses discovered in a Urals forest were likely intended for use in scientific research. Most were terminated after the fifth month of pregnancy.
According to police, forensic examinations showed most of the fetuses were terminated at 22-26 weeks of pregnancy. Initially, it was thought they were 12-16 weeks. All the fetuses were mummified.
Investigators continue to probe the origin of the fetuses, which were sealed in plastic containers and discarded in a remote location in the Sverdlovsk Region. The prevailing theory is that the remains were being used in scientific research, but police emphasize that it is just one of several leads they are working around.
The late stage at which all 248 fetuses were terminated has forced some to believe they are dealing with a coordinated crime.
Elena Mizulina, head of the State Duma Committee on Issues of Family, Women and Children, believes this incident is a case of mass illegal abortions, which she says are rife in the country.
Russian law allows a woman to terminate pregnancy until the 12th week. Afterwards, abortion can only be performed for medical reasons, if the mother’s life is assumed to be in danger.
For science’s sake
One of the most prevalent theories in regards to the origin of the fetuses is improper disposal of biological material after it was used in scientific research.
Investigators say they have received information that a woman who was in charge of one such project in Ekaterinburg and was fired from her position in 2011 took fetuses with her upon leaving and discarded them after completing her project. However, they do not disclose full details of the lead, saying investigators are still verifying the information.
According to experts, embryos and fetuses from miscarriages and abortions are frequently used for stem cell research.
Elena Mizulina says embryos at the later stages of development are especially valued by pharmacologists and cosmetologists since they present a great source of stem cells. “The demand for such ‘material’ is huge.”
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