Bodies Revealed Redux

I have talked about many topics on my blog, but only one so far has quoted me on another blog post as wanting to stop something educational and advocating ignorance. I have to say it saddens me a little that someone would imply that my moral stance on displaying human beings as freaks puts me at odds with education. I still stand by my belief that this display brings nothing educational that cannot be found on a model not made from humans. I know and understand that for years human skulls and skeletons were used in classrooms, but we now have the technology to leave the dead alone.

A fellow blogger and doctor wrote his own take on the subject and said that what pushed him over the edge is the merchandising associated with the displays. What pushed me over the edge was that the displays were making money off of dead people that in some of the exhibits could have been unwilling participants on these spectacle.

The Catholic church here in KC took a stand on the subject, and while I agree with what they say I do not use my religion as the reason for not going or even telling others that they should not. It is my own belief system that respects those that have passed away and even their bodies as something that should be respected.

17 comments on “Bodies Revealed Redux

  1. I went to the Body Worlds exhibit in Chicago and I found it fascinating and educational. There were diseased livers, hearts, and lungs next to healthy ones to show the effects of alcoholism, smoking, etc. If I smoked, those lungs would have convinced me to quit. There were even trash cans for cigarette packs.

    At the end of the exhibit, they have a video that shows how the bodies are plasticized, and how you can donate your own body to science.

    Body Worlds and Bodies Revealed are two different companies. I don’t know much about how Bodies Revealed gets their bodies, but Body Worlds has so many people who want to willingly donate their bodies that they can’t possibly take them all.

    If someone willingly donates their body for an exhibit like this, I don’t see a problem with people going to see it. That’s why the people donated their bodies in the first place… for others to see and learn.

  2. On a side note, in Canada, packs of cigarettes have pictures of bad lungs. People still smoke and buy them… I would hope that something like that stops people from smoking, but sadly I think it really does not help much if you are addicted.

    I should be done writing a post soon about getting people interested in science again, but I am sad that we live in a society where shock value is regarded so high. We already have plenty of museums that have body exhibits that do not use the remains of human beings, yet something like this is what people think is valued.

    I respect your position Michelle, :) thanks for your comment.

  3. It’s the very definition of morbid.

    Knowing that at one time, in the past, each and every one of those bodies walked, talked, had dreams, slept, sang, ran, played, argued, had sex, wondered, worked, sneezed, hugged, kissed, wrote, ate and came down with a cold gives me the evil chills.

    To simply prop them up for view in the name of science, when, as you say, synthetic substitutes are easily create-able is the height of arrogance. Displaying the dead is an affront to their lives, no matter who they were or the health decisions they made in their past.

  4. Like Michelle, I saw the Body Worlds exhibit in Chicago. At the very end was a long description of whose bodies were used, where they came from and so forth. As I recall, all (most?) were donated for scientific use as directed in their wills. My will says the same thing. I won’t be needing my body anymore and someone else could potentially learn from it. I’d even be willing to let the Body Farm have a go!

    Throughout the exhibit, at least the day I was there, there was a strong sense of peace and dignity; even the kids there doing work with their class were more well-behaved and respectful than most I’ve seen at museums.

    The exhibit did not bother me in the least. It was absolutely fascinating to see the intricacy of our bodies and how all the tiniest parts work together for the good of the whole. I was the kid in biology who LOVED dissecting cats and so forth, and who really enjoys reading about what happens, physiologically, to our bodies as they stop working optimally. So, yeah, I’m weird.

    The only part I did NOT like (and which was curtained off in its own secure area inaccessible to children) were the miscarried fetuses. That was beyond depressing, even for my medical-field relatives.

    Which leads me to say this: If someone knew going in to an exhibit like this was the sort of thing that would bother them, that person should absolutely NOT go! And, like you, I cannot easily sanction the use of people who did NOT donate their bodies for a use such as this. There is a dignity in death that needs to be respected. And I think Body Works achieved that, at least the day I was there.

    And now I’ll go be quiet. 😉

  5. I have no problem with this as long as the people on display were willing participants. But after watching one of the new shows (20/20, or dateline or something like that), it is clear this isnt allways the case.

  6. I think where we differ on this subject is on the definition of the term “freak show.” I just don’t see this a voyeuristic or freakish.

    You mention dignity. I don’t see what could be a higher, more noble calling for our mortal shell than education and science. Who knows what kind of inspiration school children might draw from seeing an exhibit like this?

    I guess I just don’t see why we should assume that this is undignified — especially before seeing it for ourselves.

  7. I agree with everyone here. It’s all up to the person to see this or not. Simply go see it OR sit here TRYING to boycott it. Logtar, I think you have some very good points here, but you won’t win. You are a few against millions. People want to see this, people want to know how their bodies work. Seeing a replica of a body isn’t near as brain embeding as seeing the real thing. Just let the people enjoy it.

  8. Megan,

    You are right, I can tell people not to do something and it would not mean a thing if they have their mind made up. However, what I am trying to do is to make sure people are completely informed before they line the pockets of people that have used the bodies of prisoners unwilling to participate on the spectacle, even if it was not any of he bodies used in this exhibit. I cannot trust that they are sincere.

    I love anatomy, I watch the discovery channel and TLC, I have actually been in a educational setting with cadavers and I did not learn anymore than when I was looking at models. JoCo just created a state of the art nurse teaching facility that mirrors an ER and they do not have any plasticized bodies…

  9. What if it were an exhibit of various ways people could be murdered? I’m sure it would be of great medical and scientific interest to see just how a bullet pierces a skull or how the internal organs splay just so when stabbed with a long sword, or the pattern of charring when a bolt of lightning has hit someone. But is it worthy of artistic interest?

    Here’s another twist. What if all the cadavers were children? Would you still be as interested?

    I can’t stomach this idea. It’s making me nauseous just to think about it, and how it can’t upset anyone else is beyond me.

  10. Hmmm…actually exhibits of the sort you suggest Barry sound like something the Mütter Museum has done/would do, especially with the popularity of the CSI series (series-es?).

    This discussion reminds me a great deal of the primary source material I read discussing the use of cadavers in medical schools about 150 years ago. It was frowned upon by the general public for very similar reasons, and as I recall several religious leaders came out against it.

    I realize that this is a different conversation as you can’t compare medical study with a public museum, but we are NOT talking about having these bodies displayed like plaster cows on the Chicago streets!

    What upsets me is corporations profiting from the use of prisoners. Then again I’m much more enfuriated by corporations profiting from the abuse of living beings.

    Body Worlds didn’t upset me or nauseate me because I can differentiate between scientific curiosity and my early “that’s ooky” training courtesy of my mother. My husband calls it “going clinical” and sometimes you just have to do pretty nauseating stuff in life, like changing an explosive diaper or placing a tourniquet to stop a spurting artery.

    Child abuse and people dying in droves of preventable diseases…now THAT nauseates me! How those things don’t upset people is beyond me. :(

    Logtar, fwiw, I agree that the sponsors of these exhibits need to be forthcoming in how they procure the bodies. Body Worlds DOES this. I have no experience with the other organization whatsoever.

  11. I think everyone missed poster’s point- if the same exact display was created from a polymer without using dead people what would be wrong with that. Then people who say it’s educational would receive their fix, while keeping the other’s happy. I think that even if there were perfect copies, people will still chose to see real stiffs.

  12. THere was one of these exhibits in Seattle for a while, but I don’t really remember which version of it. There was some controversy because it was revealed that many of the bodies were Chinese dissidents so it was assumed that the bodies were basically “dumped” and the people hadn’t granted consent. Others that saw the showing said it was pretty obvious that they were all of Asian descent.

    I didn’t see it because it’s a little too much detail for me, not because I had an objection to the concept.

  13. So Becky, you are o.k. with disregarding consent and approve of profit made from death, as long as it is apparently “them”? That is so chilling, I can not even go on.

  14. Chill, Lisa (so to speak) – I think she’s talking about not objecting to the concept of displaying dead bodies in general, outside of the consideration of where they came from. It’s just the details of such an exhibit were unsettling to her. Not unlike preferring not to see a slasher flick, but not objecting to their existence.

    I don’t think she was commenting at all on the peoples’ origin nor their consent – just the concept of the project in general.

  15. “I don’t think she was commenting at all on the peoples’ origin nor their consent – just the concept of the project in general.”

    Guess I was thrown off by the references to the “basically dumped” Chinese dissidents that hadn’t granted consent.

    Consent is KEY, NUMBER ONE CONSIDERATION HERE! Was this how they wanted their bodies used? Not the personal quease tolerance of the individual!!!Not if it is “educational”! If you have any regard for humans, how can you not question where and how these bodies came to be displayed in this exhibit. And if you have any doubt, how can you support this exhibit? And how can you not have doubt when some of the plastinates are fetuses? Humans as marketable product is a slippery slope, and I am afraid we are not questioning enough the price of this ignorance.

  16. Again I would like to remind people that we live in a very technical age were the shock factor sometimes has to be applied. We have numbed our young generation to all kinds of horrors and yes that has been helped through technology. I took my two children to it that are 3rd and 4th grade. The fact that it was real bodies made it more attention grabbing for them. They didnt walk in and go wow a computer did this. They took seriously, in a way that I don’t think it would have if it had been technically based.
    The exhibit was done tastefully and while I do agree that the fetus section was not child appropriate, they made sure we knew it was there before we went it. It was curtained off and kept seperate so if you didn’t want to see it there was you didn’t have to. They also had several volunteers inside to help with directions and questions. Many of them were even from the medical field. I was very impressed with how it was handled and presented. As for them being unwilling, once the proof for the documents was presented, I was satisfied. LOL Remember not everything you read or watch on TV is true. People will do anything to get a story.

    Thank you.

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