By Kathleen Gilbert

KANSAS CITY, MO, August 19, 2008 ( – If the bodies on display at “Bodies Revealed” could speak, they might tell a more horrifying tale than the morbid fascination their visitors pay for.

The company behind “Bodies Revealed,” an exhibition featuring preserved corpses variously posed, sliced and flayed, has shipped hundreds of corpses and organs around the United States in numerous displays. These displays attract visitors by claiming to inspire a “reverence for life” by respectfully displaying bodies in a way “that informs but doesn’t overwhelm.”

The display has frequently drawn criticism for what some consider its tacky exploitation of human bodies: one corpse, for example, flayed with a chunk missing from its head to display the brain, takes a ride on a bicycle. Among the critics is Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, who according to NZ Catholic newspaper called the display a sort of “human taxidermy” that “degrades the actual people who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed and died.”

But Premier Exhibitions, the producer of “Bodies Revealed” and “Bodies: The Exhibition”, justifies the display by highlighting their dignity and educational value as medical specimens. They explain on the “Bodies Revealed” website that, like all human specimens used for medical purposes, “A human body must be obtained through a legal, willed body donation program. Willed body donation is an anonymous process with donor names universally withheld to protect the privacy of the individual donors and their families.”

But when the exhibit arrived at Union Station in Kansas City last February, the Catholic Key, the diocesan newspaper of Kansas City, asked for proof that the donors of the bodies had actually signed any anatomical gift form.

What they found was alarming.

Although Union Station presented one such form, claiming that it was a translation of the one the body donors signed, the newspaper discovered it was only an example of a form, written by a non-affiliated company. Premier later confirmed this. The Catholic Key, as well as the press and legislatures in other states where the exhibits are displayed, are now questioning whether the body donors ever signed such a document.

Not one of the bodies that curious American consumers are shelling out $24 to see are American: they are Chinese. A scholarly article published online by the Nanjing Medical University reveals an eerie discrepancy: while hundreds of Chinese bodies tour the U.S., Chinese medical universities suffer from a dearth of donated cadavers.

Dr. Jiong Ding, one of the authors of the report and Chair of Anatomy at the University, explained to the Key that the problem is inherent in Chinese culture, which pays great respect to the bodies of the deceased. As a result, Nanjing Medical University receives less than 30 bodies per year, when they need at least 80 for teaching purposes.

But if not from the medical community, where did Premier Exhibitions’ bodies come from?

ABC’s “20/20” investigated the facility that provided Premier with the bodies – Dr. Hong Jin Sui’s Dalian Medical University Plastination Co. When ABC’s reporter asked the manager of the facility about the source of the cadavers, he claimed ignorance. But according to the Key, Dr. Hong Jin Sui said in a sworn affidavit, “All of the specimens are unclaimed bodies initially received by the Bureau of Police and then donated to the University and other universities in China for education and research.”

LifeSiteNews reported in 2006 that Premier Exhibitions, asked about the steady supply of bodies from China, claimed that they “want to do what is morally and legally correct.” They told the New York Times that they “traced the whole process. None of these [bodies] would be executed prisoners.” (See

Congressman Chris Smith (R.-NJ) thinks otherwise. He told ABC, “There is a due diligence that has to be done, particularly coming from a totalitarian dictatorship where execution of prisoners and a general lack of value for human life are paramount.” According to Amnesty International, state executions are so frequent in China that the government dispatches “execution vans,” and may lethally inject as many as 8,000 people per year.

Smith plans to request that the attorney general investigate Premier Exhibitions, and is calling for a moratorium on the shows.

The Catholic Key reports Democratic Assembly member Fiona Ma is taking similar action in California, and her bill requiring specific written permission for bodies in such exhibits has garnered strong support in the state legislature.

As a Chinese American who visited a “Bodies” show in Sacramento, Ma grew suspicious when she discovered the cadavers’ Chinese origins. “I know that few people in China would voluntarily donate their organs or bodies,” she said.

Calling the shows “grave robbing and abuse,” she condemned companies who have not obtained written consent as benefitting “at the expense of someone’s son, father, daughter or unborn who did not want to be there.”

See Related coverage:

Plastinated Body Display “Objectifies” People Edmonton Bishops Warn

Flayed and Partially Dissected Human Bodies Displayed in Ontario Science Centre Exhibit

Rest in Pieces: Ghoulish Corpse Display Industry Creates Mummy Demand in China