BALTIMORE, OCT. 9 -- A state hiring freeze that kept a vacancy for a state embalmer open for a month has forced the state to cremate about a dozen bodies donated for research.

Ronald Wade, administrator of the Maryland Anatomy Board, said the bodies had deteriorated too badly to be useful.

A hiring freeze imposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to deal with a budget crisis has prevented Wade from hiring a replacement embalmer. The board's previous embalmer was stricken by a heart attack last month.

Since then Wade has had to run the operation alone, while the state considers a request for an exemption to the hiring freeze.

"By not having the manpower to adequately treat the bodies shortly after their arrival, we have a lingering problem," Wade said. "As far as I'm concerned, it is a public health problem. We had about a dozen bodies we prepared for cremation only because we couldn't get to them in time to adequately prepare them to use in studies."

The Anatomy Board is responsible for receiving unclaimed and donated bodies and preparing them for use by medical and dental schools. The board receives an average of 65 bodies a month and expects a total of almost 800 this year.

Wade has had to deal with families of people who gave their bodies to science and people who had planned to give their bodies.

A woman whose father had donated his body read of the board's problems and "called up to ask whether the donation would be honored. Fortunately, that case was one that was used for study in a surgical program," Wade said.

Another caller, a woman whose husband's body was held by the board, asked whether his remains would be used as he had intended.

"We told her we would try," Wade said.