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Where Do The “Bodies” Come From- And Should We Even Care?

March 28, 2010

You’ve probably heard about the “Bodies” exhibits making their way around the world, including a stop in Seattle.

Two shows; “Bodies, the Exhibition”, and “Body Worlds”, its competitor, are known for taking human bodies and putting them on display for anyone willing to pay the price of admission.

The bodies go through a complicated process of being skinned, meticulously dissected and finally plasticized through a series of chemical baths which dehydrates and hardens the bodies into various poses.

The directors of these shows say they are educational.

But here is one question many want an answer to: where do the bodies come from?

“Body Worlds” says it gets bodies from people who consent to donate them before death.

“Bodies, the Exhibition” is another story.  The bodies featured are from China.  Those familiar with tradition say the Chinese would never consent to their loved one’s body being treated this way.  So where in China do they come from?

The owners of the Exhibition swear the bodies are unclaimed, and come from a Chinese medical school.  The medical school says it has never and would never donate bodies for this kind of use.

Many suspect the bodies are actually executed Chinese prisoners, who, once arrested, are never seen by their families again, and certainly never properly laid to rest should they die or be executed in prison.  They’re simply gone.

The company that owns “Bodies”, Premier Exhibitions, has relented in the past, and put up disclaimers at their shows, letting ticket-holders know they cannot determine where the bodies came from or if individual consent for their use was ever given.  Seems like that would put a dent in things, but no- their profits continue to rise.  Premier Exhibitions doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about who these people were, or even if they were murdered.

The first time I ever questioned the origin of these bodies was last year.  A friend of mine who went to the exhibit emailed me a picture of one of the bodies that left me stunned.  It was that of a woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties.  As my eyes scanned over her body, I saw why my friend had sent the picture.

There, tucked under the ribs of this unknown woman, was her nearly full term unborn baby.  Who was she?  How did she die?  Did she want her and her baby to be seen this way?  I was horrified.

The New York Times, 20/20 Investigates, The Washington Post and other news organizations have sent reporters to China.  Each has come back with disturbing claims of an underground market in dead bodies for these exhibits.

There is no paperwork, no checks and balances, just bodies exchanged for cash, then processed and ultimately shown in these exhibits.

The potential for abuse is shocking.  But the show- at least for now- goes on.

Some say, regardless of where the bodies come from, it’s unacceptable to treat a human body in this way and the shows should be banned in the US.

Others say ‘quit trippin,’ it’s educational.

You may not care where these bodies come from.  But what if the bodies were coming from America, with unknown identities via questionable means?

We would never stand for it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nickesia Gordon permalink
    April 11, 2010 8:00 am

    Does it matter where the bodies come from? Of course we should care because this is not about education but exploitation! At what point in our humanity have we found ourselves that it is ok to commodify human life, to make a spectacle of the sacred and to be so detached from what is decent?

    It is absolutely intolerable. It is a decent into decadence. It is trafficking in human bodies and somehow it is presented as being ok simply because they are deceased. These were the loved ones of others at some point in their lives and if we were to make the seemingly distant more personal then we would see how wrong this is. Would anyone want their parent, daughter, son, husband, wife… handled in this way after their passing, especially if it were an untimely death?

    For centuries different cultures from all over the world respected their dead because I think they must have realized that it is the one true reminder of our humanity. Let us not desecrate it.

  2. Cassi permalink
    December 29, 2010 11:06 am

    As a young college student bound for biological studies I find these exhibits useful and educational, meanwhile quite entertaining in a horror movie way. Yes we should know where these bodies come from and the deceased or deceased family should be aware that they will be put on public display. I do not believe, although, that these exhibits are immoral or unethical. Science is what gives you heat to warm your home in the winter, science is what created the vehicle that gets you from home to work, airplanes from country to country, and rockets from planet to planet. If you’re going to question the morals of science now, maybe you should question the medicine you take in the morning in which prolongs your life. If these bodies are being used for scientific research in order to continue the well being of mankind, than I have no qualms about it. Continue on discovering and spreading awareness to a society who is clearly not very aware of how significant these types of inquiries are.

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