Rose and Elias Van Krugel had agreed during their 17 years of marriage that when one of them died, the surviving partner would see to it that the body would be donated to science.
"We feel that our immortal souls will be taken care of and it's just a terrible shame to waste this shell by sticking it in the ground or burning it when there's such a crying need in the medical profession," Van Krugel said.
Shortly before Mrs. Van Krugel died Dec. 15 of liver cancer, she told her husband as she sat in her room at George Washington University Hospital that "she hoped she could give the gift of sight to someone after she died."
So on the day of his wife's death Van Krugel signed the necessary papers to donate her body to the George Washington University School of Medicine, across 23d Street NW from the hospital morgue where her body lay.
"The following day, I called the hospital and asked about getting a copy of the death certificate," Van Krugel said yesterday, "and I was asked what mortician would transport the body.
"I said, 'That's unconscionable! You want me to start calling morticians to start lining up transportation?' It's not a question of cost," said Van Krugel, a civilian who works for the Navy Department. "It's just a blame ripoff."
Van Krugel was told by the hospital he was indeed expected to arrange for - and pay for - the transportation of his wife's body across 23rd Street.
Asked yesterday about the situation, hospital spokeswomen Pat Hurley would say only that District of Columbia law requires that a mortician transport the body. She declined to comment on the hospital policy of requiring the donor to pay the transportation costs.
"I had gone from a state of depression to being quite steamed," Van Krugel said. He said he asked someone at the GW morgue, "You mean to say there's no medical school within the D.C area that will transport a body without fuss?
"He told me the law, but then he said, "Georgetown University.'
"I called Georgetown and they were lovely," said Van Krugel. And so the remains of Rose Van Krugel were removed by a mortician who has a contract with Georgetown, from the GW morgue to the Goergetown University School of Medicine's department of anatomy. And at no cost to the Van Krugel family.
"We feel that a person donating a body to Georgetown is making a gift to Georgetown," said hospital spokeswoman Cynthia Byers." In return for this gift they shouldn't have to pay the charges, she said, adding that "we do need bodies and we try to encourage people to contribute." The university will pay for transportation of a body located anywhere within 50 miles of the school, she said.
"It's a terrible thing to do to a bereaved person," said Van Krugel of GW, Van Krugel said "If I weren't an educated man, I might have just knuckled under and paid. It's an archaic administrative practice."
Although he believes GW gave his wife "the best of care" while she was a patient at the hospital, Van Krugel said he will no longer donate to his alma matter's alumni fund.
"I know if my wife is where I think she is, she's grinning from ear to ear because she hated ripoffs, and this is a ripoff," Van Krugel said.