DetNews.com wrote:As controversial display of real human corpses comes to Detroit, ethical questions continue to follow.
I s it a fascinating lesson in human anatomy or a traveling freak show? As "Our Body: The Universe Within" opens at the New Detroit Science Center Saturday, ethical questions are clouding the exhibit, which displays actual human corpses.
The bodies have been preserved through a process called plastination, which preserves the body by replacing body fluids with a pliable plastic.
The cadavers are not displayed intact, but are skinned and dissected. One body is perched atop a bike to show the skeletal system, while another is shown in a runner's stance. A diseased smoker's lung is shown in harrowing detail.
There are at least three similar exhibitions by competing companies touring the U.S., including "Body Worlds," the original exhibit by Gunther von Hagens, who claims to have invented plastination.
Cadaver exhibits proved to be so popular in
California and in Florida that museums had to stay open around the clock at the end of the run to accommodate the crowds. In Orlando, the "Our Body" exhibit, which opened in November, drew 20,000 people in its first month. In Tampa, 12,000 people attended in just the first four days of a cadaver exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.
But while crowds have flocked to the shows, questions and controversy have dogged the exhibits, including the nagging question of where the bodies came from.
According to the Universe Within Touring Company, the firm presenting the Science Center exhibit, the 20 preserved human bodies and 260 organs on display are on loan from a Chinese foundation called the Life Sciences Project. But according to published reports, the Chinese government claims the bodies were unclaimed and unidentified. Thus no consent could have been given for such a display.
Exhibitors argue that the exhibit is educational.
"The bodies are fascinating to look at. You can see what you look like under the skin ... down to the smallest capillary," says Todd Slisher, vice president of programs for the New Detroit Science Center.
Because "Our Bodies" also examines the reproductive system, including several human fetuses (separate from the rest of the exhibit), "Our Body: The Universe Within" is recommended for those 13 and older.
"We want parents to carefully consider before bringing their children," Slisher says.
Human remains have long been used for educational purposes by medical schools, but with these museum exhibits, corpses are now on display to the public.
Matt Jackson, an assistant dean for basic science education at Wayne State's medical school, said, in general terms, he was for such educational use. "The medical school encourages the exposure to the public because it serves to educate the public."
David Erik Nelson, an Ann Arbor writer and former teacher, took his students to von Hagens' "Body Worlds" in Chicago. He called it "beautiful, even if it is ghastly."
"'Body Worlds' bent over backwards to obscure that they were human bodies; it was downplayed," Nelson says. "Many of my students didn't know they were actual bodies."
Nelson believes that such cadaver exhibits connect visitors to their humanity. "It is not cleaned up. This is what is inside you," he says.
But in Seattle, Chinese-American groups raised ethical and cultural concerns about these unburied Chinese corpses going on tour seemingly forever.
Frank Wu, dean of Wayne State University Law School and author of "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White" (Basic Books), is troubled by the display, although he sees it as a broader issue.
"The use of cadavers, whether for medical or artistic purposes, has always been surrounded by myth, rumor, legend and this is no different," Wu says. "But people should be concerned not just because of ethnic pride but because of the basic respect for humans.
"How would anyone feel to see that a family member had been cut up and put on display without consent or notice? Everyone associated with the exhibit should be willing to address these issues and questions."
But even if an adult wants to see cut-up cadavers, is it appropriate for a child? Nelson believes so, although the former teacher advises parents to talk to their children beforehand.
"We have a funny, backward notion about children," Nelson says. "I think a lot of kids under 10 get their 'read' on a situation based on the reaction they get from their parents. Kids are curious, but if they see an adult freaked out, they will freak out."