Today as part of a team-building exercise the Kelsey gang all went to Atlanta to see two exhibits–Dialog in the Dark and Bodies. Dialog in the Dark was interesting; we spent about an hour experiencing life as if we were totally blind. We had to navigate corridors, perform basic tasks such as crossing the street, and learn to use a cane. It was a very interesting experience.
The next exhibit we saw was Bodies. About a year ago I saw a 20/20 special on Bodies, and I remember it vividly. I’m not huge into television, but as I was flipping channels it caught my eye, and I couldn’t turn the channel.
20/20: Secret Trade in Chinese Bodies
My reaction to the plastinated bodies was curiosity… were they real or mannequins? Oh, they’re real? Where did they come from? The 20/20 special traveled to China, the source of the bodies on exhibit, to answer some questions about where these people came from and who they were.
What they found was a little shocking.
What’s odd about the bodies is they are all young, very healthy-looking oriental people with no apparent reason for being dead. Did these people all donate their bodies to science? If so, why did they die so young? What did they die from?
The German doctor who invented the plastination process said he had to “cremate several bodies he received in China after detecting injuries that led him to suspect they had been executed prisoners” according to the 20/20 show summary.
According to the Bodies official website, the source of the bodies is a little less controversial:
The full body specimens are persons who lived in China and died from natural causes. After the bodies were unclaimed at death, pursuant to Chinese law, they were ultimately delivered to a medical school for education and research. Where known, information about the identities, medical histories and causes of death is kept strictly confidential.
Walking through the exhibit was surreal. There were tables with organs, muscles, and body parts everywhere. One table had two severed arms, skinned to show the muscles. There were tables with virtually every part of the human body from the nervous system, circulatory system, skeleton, muscular, etc. One very interesting display was the human brain, with spinal chord and all nerves attached. (sorry I couldn’t snag a picture of that one).
Then there were the “bodies.” The bodies were not just parts, they were entire, complete, human bodies that were posed in activities. One was drawing, with his brain and muscles exposed. One was holding a basketball and another throwing a football. They were all skinned or dissected to some degree or another (as seen in my very graphic photographs).
While it was interesting, I’m not sure of the educational value of seeing bodies posed like that. For medical students, maybe, but on display for everyone to see it just seems to be entertainment. And I wonder if the families of those people would’ve wanted to see them like that.
I wouldn’t have paid money to see the exhibit because I don’t want to support what could be exploitation of Chinese political prisoners, or even just poor people. Without identifying these specimens, we’ll never know whether they were really just accidental deaths or just a part of a very profitable new export from China.
Since it was already organized and paid for, I went to see what it was about. It was interesting… it got me thinking. Looking at their bodies you really see how fragile and yet how resilient we are. How everything works together to form a perfect system. That is amazing. But you also see a lot of dead people on display for public entertainment, and that’s a little sad, or at least it was to me.
I know one thing, I wouldn’t want my body on display like that for my children or grandchildren to see one day.
Thanks to my friend Patrick, I’ve found that some of the bodies could be from Chinese prisoners. The debate sparked a lot of questions and even a congressional hearing. Below is a disclaimer once posted on the Bodies official website:
–This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.
-This exhibit displays full body cadavers as well as human body parts, organs, fetuses and embryos that come from cadavers of Chinese citizens or residents. With respect to the human parts, organs, fetuses and embryos you are viewing, Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons.
Thanks to Patrick for the heads-up.