Saturday, January 26, 2008

The End of Human Body Exhibitions?

This article from the LA Times reports that the California State Assembly voted 50 to 4 to approve legislation to ensure that the people whose remains are on display consented to be part of such exhibits.

Generally the bodies are dissected and preserved in a process called plastination. "Although plastination was intended to advance medicine and science, many entrepreneurs are using plastination to make outrageous profits by dissecting, mutilating and parading unwilled bodies around the world and in our state," the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), said during Assembly debate. "Asking for consent and verification is not too much to ask."

Presumably, the Assembly's concerns arise from allegations that the "provenance" of bodies from China used in some human body exhibitions can not be adequately verified.

Personally, I found the traveling Body Worlds exhibition fascinating, if a little creepy. However, no matter what your feelings about the particular content of certain exhibitions, should governments really be determining whether a museum should present a particular exhibition or not?


  1. Governments shouldn't censor what a museum exhibits as long as what is exhibiting is legal. How can one actually think it is OK for human bodies to be exhibited if their previous owners didn't consent. We all know mainland China isn't on par with the civilized world when it comes to ethics. The man who started this exhibition claims that his subjects are given to him through the Chinese government for a fee. Would it be hard to imagine the Chinese killing off prisoners or unwilling peasants for a profit. They have done much worse to their inhabitants in the past.

    This is much less a government censorship issue and much more a human rights issue.

  2. It doesn't look like the government is trying to determine what the museum shows ... just that what the museum shows was intended to be shown by the person who, you know. Is being shown.

    I think it's perfectly acceptable -- nay, necessary -- that only bodies willed to such exhibits should be shown. And I mean, today, lots of people probably think being immortalized by "plastination" would be pretty sweet. As they said, "Asking for consent and verification is not too much to ask." It's really not.

    I agree. It's a human rights issue, not a censorship issue. Seriously, peoples' bodies deserve to be treated with respect, even if they are not still alive. It's sick to steal someone's dead body, mess around with it, and then show it to the world IF they didn't give you permission to so. Honestly, doing it without permission is just plain barbaric and disgusting.

  3. I did a little research project about the "Bodies" industry. I wish you hadn't labeled your article "Body Worlds" because they seem to be the only company that has a long list of volunteers (Chinese and global) to be plastinated. I'm afraid the casual reader will make the negative connection of question provenance and Body Worlds when it should be called into question for the many others. To be sure, the concern is very real, "volunteers" from China (often from prisons, and you can go to prison for the wrong religion) should be a concern for all who view a Bodies exhibit. Thank you for putting the info out there.