Bodies Revealed Controversy

A fellow blogger, Logtar,  href="">tipped
me off to a controversy, and asked if I had anything to say
about it.  The controversy has come about over an exhibit: rel="tag" href="">Bodies
Revealed.  It's a traveling exhibit that displays
plastinated human cadavers.  The exhibit was organized by href="">Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

A bit of background can be gotten from an article in Scientific
, href="">Plastic
Bodies On Display
, from 3 April 2000.  The
process was invented by href="">Gunther
von Hagens of the href=""
rel="tag">University of Heidelberg, Germany, in
1978.  An anatomy professor in the USA opened href="">a
laboratory to make use of the technique.  The US
laboratory was opened in 1989, at the University of Michigan, by
Professor Roy Glover ( href="">photo).
 Dr. Glover retired from the University in 2004, holding the
title of Emeritus Professor.  He is now the Chief Medical
Advisor for the company that is putting on the exhibit.

When I first started to read up on this, I thought I recognized the
name.  I looked into it.  He was awarded a teaching
award in 1984.  As it happens, I was in medical school at the
University of Michigan at that time.  This connection, of
course, would make me hesitant to be overtly critical of him.  

Although I would be disinclined to be critical of a highly respected
former professor, if it turned out that he did something wrong, I would
say so.  But in a gray area, I'd give him the benefit of the

So, what is the controversy?

Looking around the Internet, I saw href="">quite
a few blog posts that mostly seemed critical of the exhibit.
  There were also several letters to the editors of various
papers, things like that.  Logtar put it like this:

...When I started hearing that the exhibit was coming
to Kansas City, I was not very happy. I do not believe that science
needs to be displayed in a freak show manner, specially since now our
technology permits the creation of life like materials that are being
used every single day to train doctors. Gone could be the days of gross
anatomy where you could only learn by dissecting cadavers...

I however cannot condone the display of human bodies as a spectacle. I
do not see any scientific or artistic merit on this morbid display. I
am not as satisfied as Union Station CEO Andi Udris with the company
that potentially used unwilling condemned prisoners for some other
exhibits. Even thought the company produced documentation, it is not
enough for me...

So I call on everyone that reads this blog to just skip this exhibit
all together...

There are two arguments here.  One is that it is disrespectful
to display bodies in such a manner.  A corollary of that is
that it is crass to make money from such a display.  The
second argument is less obvious, because it depends on the details of
how the bodies were obtained.  This, in my opinion, is the
more serious matter.

It has been alleged that (at least some) bodies were obtained
illicitly.  As reported by ABC News:

China Investigating Black Market in Bodies

Self-Admitted Participant of Bodies Black Market Described
'Body Runs,' Where Bodies Went for $200 to $300


Feb. 15, 2008

Authorities in China and New York have opened investigations into
allegations that a black market in Chinese bodies, which may include
executed prisoners, is sending corpses to the United States for public

The investigations come in the wake of an ABC News report, that aired
this Friday on "20/20", that features a self-admitted participant of a
bodies black market who described "body runs" to locations where
bodies, including those of executed prisoners, were sold for $200 to

Dr. Glover did provide href="">an
explanation in an interview with the Washington Post.
 Unfortunately, he was vague about the details:

Rockville, Md.: I've never
received a satisfactory answer as to where these bodies come from and
how they are procured. Please explain. I would feel more comfortable
visiting the exhibition if I knew the deceased people had voluntarily
donated their bodies to science.

Roy Glover: All of the bodies were obtained
through a credited medical university in the People's Republic of
China. Asia possesses the largest and most highly competent group of
dissectors in the world, and they are highly skilled in preparing the
bodies for educational and scientific purposes. Currently, human
specimens in medical schools in China, the United States and other
countries throughout the world are donated or unidentified bodies.

That interview was from 2007, though, so he was not responding to
official allegations of impropriety.  Even so, he knew
perfectly well in 2007 that there was a controversy.  In 2005,
the exhibit was in Florida.  It was href="">reported:

The exhibit opened today, despite a move from the
Florida State Anatomical Board which voted 4-2 to stop the show out of
concerns that the people never gave permission for their remains to be
displayed. According to the Anatomical Board, such authorization is
required by Florida law. The Tampa exhibit uses unclaimed and
unidentified cadavers from China.

Curiously, the more recent controversy, this time in Kansas City, led
to the href="">following

Glover visited Kansas City in October when Union
Station announced "Bodies Revealed." He was asked by The Star
specifically about concerns raised by human rights groups that the
bodies may be those of prisoners, political or otherwise.

"The individuals died of natural causes," said Glover, a professor
emeritus of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Michigan.
"They had made the decision to donate their bodies to a medical school
after their death, and so what happens in China is exactly what happens
in the United States when a person donates their body. … And
the medical school is legally obligated to use it for an educational or
research purpose."

Granted, these were different exhibits, perhaps with different bodies.
 But first he said that some were "unidentified bodies."
 In the Kansas City interview, he says the people agreed,
before death, to have their bodies used for educational or research
purposes.  It is hard to see how that could be the case with
unidentified bodies.  

These apparent inconsistencies are disturbing.  It is
important that people be able to trust the medical profession to handle
them with respect, even after they die.  Thus, it is necessary
that exhibits of cadavers be arranged with precise records regarding
the origins of the bodies.  It is true that there are
confidentiality issues. Such records could not be revealed publicly, or
casually.  But every confidentiality statute that I have seen
makes allowances for legal or institutional review.  

The Kansas City report includes the following statement:

Union Station CEO Andi Udris said Saturday that the
ABC report focused on "Bodies: The Exhibition," a separate show also
produced by Premier. The company says that "Bodies: The Exhibition" is
composed of unclaimed bodies but that "Bodies Revealed" is made up of
people who signed donor forms before dying of natural causes.

"I have no reason to believe these people (in "Bodies Revealed") didn't
willingly donate their bodies," Udris said. "It happens every day."

But anticipating a meeting with local Catholic officials —
and before the ABC report — Udris already had decided he
wanted a greater comfort level.

"I went back to my people and said, 'OK, what we need here is some
additional evidence,' " Udris said. "And what they have provided us is
the donation form, in English, explaining this is what these people
supposedly signed off on. What they have not revealed to us is the
actual copy signed by the person."

Udris isn't sure Union Station can demand that information.

This clarifies it somewhat: different bodies, from different sources,
in different exhibits.  But no actual evidence is presented.
 It would be possible to construct a legal framework for the
licensing of such exhibits, along with a standard for documentation
regarding the origin of the bodies and any consent that may have been
obtained.  Apparently this has not been done.  Some
communities have responded by simply banning the exhibits.  

My personal reaction is to think it is crass to have these exhibits,
even though I am not personally bothered by seeing anatomical
specimens.  One thing that sways me is the existence of
merchandise.  [These photos are hotlinked, because the site
disables the right-click-save function.  (I know it can be
circumvented in at least two ways, but why bother?) ] 

onclick="return popImage(this.href,'BOD626');"> src=""
border="0"> href=""
onclick="return popImage(this.href,'BOD129');">

onclick="return popImage(this.href,'BOD129');">For
me, this tips the whole thing over the edge, into a realm of venal
commercialization.  Sure, a keychain with a little model brain
is neat for neuropunk geeks, but I wouldn't want one: the connection to
an exhibit of actual bodies of controversial provenance is just too
much.  In medicine, ethical standards universally call for
being conservative.  That is, it is necessary to avoid even
the appearance of impropriety.


More like this

My son saw the exhibit in Boston. He found it amazing, moving, jaw-dropping... I don't recall the word "disrespectful" anywhere in the description. In part (very small part, of course) because of that exhibit, he is now a pre-med student.

Beside the comment box, as I type, is your icon for "Encephalon"; is that a "morbid display"? A "spectacle" displayed in a "freak show manner"? To me, the exhibit follows the tradition of Albinus and Wandelaar ( of displaying the bodies, in partial dissection, in natural settings and actions. It is not merely aesthetic; the bodies as displayed show not merely origins and insertions of muscles, for instance, but also give vivid evidence of the function of that muscle, in the way a cadaver on a slab does not.

As for respect... I would donate my body for this without hesitation, except that I hope some of my organs can be put to better use. Rather than feeding worms, they are art, science, anatomy, and perhaps a bit of inspiration to future scientists and doctors.

I saw "Bodies - The Exhibition" when it was in town. I found it fascinating. It was particularly interesting to see actual organs in context. For example, the lungs were quite a bit smaller than I expected.

One aspect of the exhibition that surprised me was a section in which stillborn fetuses were displayed. I found this part of the show a bit icky. At least some of the fetuses suffered from severe developmental problems. This part of the exhibition was cordoned off from the rest of the show and had a sign that warned the visitor about what to expect and how to bypass it.

I am quite surprised that the fetus part of the show didn't generate quite a bit of controversy since anything to do with fetuses seems to be a hot-button issue. Perhaps some of the controversy about the exhibit is in fact indirectly a controversy about the display of the fetuses.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Feb 2008 #permalink

I've seen a different exhibition in an Osaka museum, about brains. Lots of brains and whole neural systems neatly extricated and exhibited from many different animals including humans, in many different ways including plastination. How big _is_ a whale brain, right next to an elephant brain, human brain, cat brain and so on and how do they differ anatomically? What do brains from different dog races look like, when they are the same species but so very different in size? Whole extricated nervous systems (brain, spinal cord and major nerves or its equivalent) from species ranging from a house fly to a human laid out side by side.

I see nothing improper of ghoulish about this. And no, merchandise doesn't change that.

Per Anon's comment:
My son saw the exhibit in Boston. He found it amazing, moving, jaw-dropping... I don't recall the word "disrespectful" anywhere in the description. In part (very small part, of course) because of that exhibit, he is now a pre-med student.

I have seen the exhibit a couple of times on TV and I have to agree with Anon about the reaction of jaw dropping, etc. I found it stirring ambivalence in me that I had to evalutate to understand better. There was an initial feeling of revulsion but it was soon replaced by deep, psychological and even visceral fascination!
Dave Briggs :~)

Only people with the mentality of the Dark Ages can object
to this exhibit!!!

By Paul Young (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

Only people with the mentality of the Dark Ages can object
to this exhibit!!!

By Paul Young (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

I found the exhibition to be quite informative but also found the fetuses and other bodies quite disturbing. I can only hope they were obtained legally but if they were not; we can equate this with World War II; what Hitler did to the Jewish people by using their bodies for scientific experimentation. In any case, I hope these bodies were obtained in an honorable manner.

Jeanine Barton
Kansas City, MO

By Jeanine Barton (not verified) on 17 May 2008 #permalink

If you actually GO to the exhibition, you would realize that the bodies are not displayed as a freak show. It is a museum and it is the most fascinating educational experience you will ever have in your life. Doctors go there, medical students go there, anyone that has a yearning for education go there. The bodies are actually displayed there with panels and panels of didactics. You don't go there to look at the insides of bodies. You go there to learn about the healthy lung opposed to an unhealthy lung. You go there to see the different stages of fetal development, not dead babies. When people hear about it from word of mouth they tend to sensationalize it. Just turn on the tv! i have a background in exhibition design and even the quality of the design, from lighting, placing, side notes, information panels, you see that the company that produces these shows, truly respect the bodies 100%. Especially when you go to the fetus section. The room is designed so tastefully, it is very dim, there is a disclaimer and another path you can choose to go to skip that section. But everyone around you is truly astonished. you can see in peoples eyes that they want to learn. If these bodies came from a tortured prison, I would have to say that this would be the best way to show respect by preserving their bodies and educating millions and millions of people all over the world. Why do you think so many people donate their bodies to the exhibit. it would be an honor.

My whole family saw it in Vegas and all of my kids were very fascinated.The displays were literally awesome and our favorite part was how our blood works.I agree,if you actually go,you'll forget about any "morbid" display because you'll be too busy learning and seeing something you've never seen before. It is so very important and you'll come out respecting our bodies and just how complex they are.

While this might be fascinating (and I agree that it is) and it does satisfy a deep curiosity of what goes on inside us every day... it still is a crime if these people had expected to be buried. Imagine if you went to this and found your uncle on display! Or a cousin! That is where the controversy lies deepest. Not so much in the method of display, as the legitimacy of these bodies having been volunteered while alive.

I filled out the donation card. We saw the exhibit last night my husband 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son. It is very fascinating and informative. It helped our daughter learn where her body parts are ( such as the cerebellum) in her own body. My opinion is if you feel the display is "morbid" stay home. Simple. If you are looking for a way to see the human body scientifically and in an artful way, please see this exhibit. You will not be disappointed.

I saw the Bodies Revealed exhibit just thie week in Grandrapids a medical student and someone in the medical prefession (paramedic) I found it EXTEMELY informative and amazing, It was awwing to see that "hey the stuff I talk about in my book....THIS is what it looks like!" It was kinda awsome becasue I got to explain to my Fiance how it all works how its put together, the fetus exhibit actually changed my mind alittle bit about Abortions and all that jazz...bacuse even at 4 weeks that little baby has features, looks like a was incredibley moveing. I have never understood the body like I do now. It was art, and science mixed in one! my two favoret things! I found it a wee bit creepy that the faces were still on the cadavors...but quickly passed that feeling apon realizeng how amazing this exhibit realy was. Go see it you wont be dissapointed. Soecialy all you health feild people...its inspireing very very much soo.

Ar ôl un diwrnod ar ddeg heb idiot o'r enw Sam, ei fod yn ôl yn y gwaith. Pan fydd y penaethiaid o gwmpas, ei fod yn frown ymyl flaen. Gwneud unrhyw esgus i fynd i mewn i'r ystafell ydynt mewn, fel pe dweud "edrych arna. Wyf yn gweithio". Roedd ei agwedd at ffrindiau gwaith arall pan nad yw'r meistri yn cael eu gwmpas yn "Yr wyf yn well na chi". Mae'n tynnu jôc ac mae'n ddoniol (yn ei feddwl). Ond os ydych yn tynnu yn jôc arno. Rydych yn yr isaf o'r holl ffurfiau bywyd ac efe yells ei ben i ffwrdd fel strancio bedair oed. Parc o fewn 6 troedfedd (2 fetr) ar ei gar smart ac rydych yn ei blocio.

Stellen Sie sich folgende Fragen. (1) In welchem ââTeil der Vergangenheit würden Sie gerne leben? (2) Warum möchten Sie in dieser Zeit leben? (3) Können Sie in dieser Zeit nur mit den Werkzeugen und Geräten zur Verfügung zu jener Zeit überleben?

Die Dächer sind aus unterschiedlichen Materialien hergestellt. Holz, Stroh, Schiefer, Stein, Metall, Kunststoff und alles andere, die verwendet werden können. Meistens hängt, wo Sie sind in der Welt und wie viel Sie kaufen können, um welche Art von Dach haben Sie.

Kuhu me nüüd arengust teed? Me oleme muutumas tsiviliseeritud või ikka läheb teele suurendada hävitava võimu? Meie meditsiiniliste teadmiste suureneb hüppeliselt iga sõda, kuid mitte nii palju kui meie hävitusrelvade. Kui meie meditsiinilisi teadmisi tõusnud nii kiiresti kui meie relvad, suudame elada kaks või enam sajandeid.

Tiefsee hydrothermale (HeiÃwasser) Lüftungsöffnungen haben viel Forschung Interesse geweckt kürzlich. Sie wurden 1977 entdeckt und sind nun bekannt, dass in vielen Orten auf dem Meeresboden auftreten. Eine Entlüftung öffnet, wo die Erdkruste instabil ist. Wie Risse bilden, sickert Meerwasser nach unten in den heiÃen Stein und wird dann wieder die Temperatur vertrieben in der Luft verursacht es zu kochen. Die Temperatur um so ein Riss kann so hoch zu 420 C.

Yn unig oedd darllen am derfysgoedd yn Llundain a mannau eraill ar y safle we y BBC. Dylent ddefnyddio pwyntiau bwled rwber, CS nwy a phupur chwistrell nes y terfysgwyr yn mynd yn analluog. Yna llong iddynt Afghanistan er mwyn iddynt ddysgu sut i ymddwyn.

Yalnız Londonda iÄtiÅaÅlar vÉ BBC saytda digÉr sahÉlÉr barÉdÉ oxu olmuÅdur. Bu rioters incapacitated qÉdÉr Onlar rezin güllÉ, CS qaz vÉ bibÉr spreyi istifadÉ etmÉlidirlÉr. Sonra Æfqanıstana onlara gÉmi onlar davranmaq necÉ Ã¶yrÉnÉ bilÉrsiniz.

Mellakoita kerran repiä läpi useissa kaupungeissa Englannissa. Monet ihmiset kääntyvät jopa heidän työpaikallaan tänään löytää sen tuhonneet tai pahempaa, tuhotaan. Kuinka monet muut ovat menossa menettävät työpaikkansa heidän työpaikoillaan tuhoutui? Tuo armeijassa ja on mitään aiheita käsiteltäessä mellakoijia. He haluavat vahingoittaa muita heittämällä tiili ja muita asioita, niin pitäisi olla sama väkivalta takaisin heille.

Meine letzte Woche von der Arbeit an der Regierung Schema. Zurück zur Arbeitslosigkeit Warteschlange nächste Woche. Das Programm war nur für 13 Wochen und endet in vier Tagen. Langeweile und kaum genug Geld zum Leben. : ( .

MÉnim keçÉn hÉftÉ dövlÉt sxem üzrÉ iÅlÉyir. GÉlÉn hÉftÉ iÅsizlik queue qayıt. Sxemi on üç hÉftÉ idi ki, dörd gün ÉrzindÉ baÅa çatır. Cansıxıcılıq vÉ yaÅamaq üçün ancaq kifayÉt qÉdÉr pul. :( .

Vain kaksi päivää tämän jälkeen päivä työskentelevät hallituksen järjestelmää. :( Sitten takaisin työttömyys jono ensi viikolla. Kolmetoista viikkoa tekemään työtä ja vain saada neljäkymmentäviisi prosenttia vähimmäispalkan se ja hallitus ihmettelee, miksi järjestelmä ei ole suosittu! Jos minulla on maksettu minimipalkkaa olisin Nautin siitä enemmän ja oli jonkin verran rahaa säästää.

Olen visted Monet sivustot viime kolmetoista viikko sen kanssa työni, niin on tylsää ja muut mistyfing. Onko saada jonkin verran tietoa. Kuten, kun Japanissa muutama vuosi sitten, tulin niin lähellä Bamboo Forest Kiotossa. Se ärsytti minua, koska olisin halunnut visted sitä.

An elderly couple were having dinner one evening when the husband reached across the table, took his wifeâs hand in his and said , âClara, soon we
will be married 50 years and thereâs something I have to know. In all of these 50 years, have you ever been unfaithful to me?â
Clara replied, âWell, Paul, I have to be honest with you. Yes, Iâve been unfaithful to you three times during these 50 years, but always for a good reason.â
Paul was obviously hurt by his wifeâs confession, but said, âI never suspected. Can you tell me what you mean by âgood reasons?â
Clara said, âThe first time was shortly after we were married, and we were about to lose our little house because we couldnât pay the mortgage. Do you remember that one evening I went to see the banker and the next day he notified you that the loan would be extended?â
Paul recalled the visit to the banker and said, âI can forgive you for that. You saved our home, but what about the second time?â
Clara asked, âAnd do you remember when you were so sick, but we didnât have the money to pay for the heart surgery you needed? Well, I went to see your doctor one night and, if you recall, he did the surgery at no charge.â
âI recall that,â said Paul. âAnd you did it to save my life, so of course I can forgive you for that. Now tell me about the third time.â
âAll right,â Clara said. âSo do you remember when you ran for president of your golf club, and you needed 73 more votes?â

Doctor Dave had slept with one of his patients and felt guilty all day long.

No matter how much he tried to forget about it, he couldn't.

The guilt and sense of betrayal was overwhelming. But every once in a while he'd hear an internal, reassuring voice that said:

"Dave, don't worry about it. You aren't the first doctor to sleep with one of their patients and you won't be the last. And you're single. Just let it go.."

But invariably the other voice would bring him back to reality, whispering:

"Dave you're a vet."

I don't find it disrespectful. They should find where the bodies came from, true. But, I don't see what wrong with going to it. I saw one today. It was amazing. It made me look at my body differently, in a good way. I was stunned. To see the effects of different diseases and harmful activities was, just wow. I believe is a positive thing. Not a freak show.

I don't normaly agree with you but I do this time. But now I need a headache tablet after reading all that gobbledygook.

I like this super blog, it's so relaxed and laid-back. The lazy way you tease out the words to this yarn creates a nonchalance to this story that calms me.

I think this exhibit is awesome! I don't see anything wrong with it, it really helps understand and know more about your body, its amazing to be able to see every organ and sliced into layers so you can actually see everything.. pretty cool.. I saw it in Mobile Alabama... I would really like to see it again, I have several other nurse friends that is very interested... my daughter, which was 12yrs old at the time found it to be very educational...

He walked out of the shop carrying the new book he had just bought, when all of a sudden a single egg flew through the air and hit him on the face. Then a barrage of eggs flew at him, they came through the air like a sheet and hit him everywhere. This is just a day in the life of a popular (his words) politician!