But Mary Anderson says she never signed off on that. She wanted an autopsy done to confirm the cause of death, not to turn his body into a science experiment.
"They told me they took his eyes, heart, brain, pancreas. They took every organ he had in his body out of him. I said, 'Why? Why?' " Anderson said. "I thought they were going to take a piece of his lung to see what he died from."
Anderson, a West Philadelphia pastor, has filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming that doctors raided her son's corpse "without authority and without consent," used the organs for medical research, then disposed of them "like garbage."
"They just threw my son away," Anderson said. "I don't think people know what they're doing to their loved ones. Ain't no way in the world, if they explained to me they're going to take my son and experiment with him and throw his organs in the trash, that I would've consented to that."
Hospital spokeswoman Jackie Kozloski declined to comment on the Anderson case, but said in a statement: "When performing complete autopsies, it is customary for academic medical centers, that are engaged in educating future doctors, to remove and retain organs and tissues for teaching and continued analysis."
Anderson said she signed the autopsy-permission form, but the fine print was vague. The form also says that hospital staff will explain the condition in which the body will be delivered to the undertaker.
"That never happened," said Anderson's attorney, Glenn Ellis, of the Layser & Freiwald law firm. "There is nothing in there that says you can take organs for educational purposes. But that's what they do. There must be hundreds of people out there that are just empty."
It remains unclear what ultimately happened to Vance Anderson's organs after they were studied. During a deposition last month, Ellis put the question to Dr. John Farber, who signed the autopsy report.
"After you were done teaching those residents and perhaps any medical students who were present, what happened to the organs?" Ellis asked.
"I don't know," Farber responded, according to the transcript.
Two years after her son died, Mary Anderson still gets choked up when she thinks about how it ended. She feels like she let him down.
He was a neighborhood handyman, she said, and didn't deserve to be taken apart.
"He came from me," she said. "That's my baby."
On Twitter: @wbender99