Human Interest

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“Bodies” Exhibit Remains Popular, But Controversial

April 05, 2009 08:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Concerns have arisen that a number of bodies on display may have come from Chinese prisons, while other critics say the exhibit is simply wrong.

Human Bodies on Display

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Premier Exhibition’s “Bodies … The Exhibition” has appeared in numerous American cities such as New York, Las Vegas, Seattle and Pittsburgh. But a recent investigation by the ABC news program “20/20” questions how the plasticized bodies on display were obtained.

The “Bodies” exhibition has faced accusations that the corpses it uses came from prisoners in Chinese labor camps. But Premier denies these allegations, claiming they only use “legitimate, unclaimed bodies."

Nonetheless, in late January 2008, the California state assembly passed a bill compelling the exhibitors to attain prior consent from the donors or donors’ families before they use their bodies in the show.

A similar exhibit has caused problems in Paris recently. On April 1, two human rights groups urged a judge to shut down the "Our Body" exhibit, saying it "violates laws that protect the dignity of the human body," according to the Associated Press.

The French humans rights organizations want the exhibit organizer, Encore Productions, to produce documents proving that the cavadavers came from consenting individuals.

And in Venezuela, an exhibition of "Bodies Revealed," organized by Evenpro, has been shut down. The Associated Press reports that the Venezuelan government said "organizers misled customs inspectors" by claiming that the bodies were made of plastic.

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Opinion & Analysis: The ethical dilemma

Lack of consent is not the only issue surrounding these anatomical exhibits. Some critics have called it downright inappropriate to slice up human bodies and parade them in various poses for public view. Supporters argue, however, that the unique presentation of the human form offered by the exhibits is a valuable educational experience.

A September 2007 editorial from Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh newspaper, cites the educational benefits to seeing "Bodies: The Exhibition,” which took place in Pittsburgh that fall. But the publication also expressed concern over the exhibit’s failure to prove donor consent. “Because, while we value science and education, nothing supercedes basic human rights.

During a panel discussion at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh in February 2008, Rabbi Danny Schiff said that unclaimed bodies, no matter their origin, shouldn't be treated in such a cavalier manner.

"There seems to be a presumption that if you have unclaimed bodies you have carte blanche to do whatever you please with them," he said during the discussion. "In their lifetime, some of these people might have been horrified by being put on display like this."

Reference: What is plastination?

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