Plastinated Body Display “Objectifies” People Edmonton Bishops Warn

By Hilary White
  EDMONTON, May 27, 2008 ( - Catholics in Edmonton are being asked to think twice before taking seeing or taking children to see the upcoming display of "plastinated" bodies at the Telus World of Science, could when it opens June 13. The Catholic Archbishop of Edmonton, Richard Smith, in a joint statement with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic church, Bishop David Motiuk, said that he was concerned the display would undermine the idea of the dignity of the human person.

"When looking at the bodies, it’s very important that they won’t be objectified," said Archbishop Richard Smith. "These are bodies of people. These are bodies that lived, that loved ... It’s not just an object to be gawked at as an object of curiosity, but to be honoured."

  The Body Worlds "anatomy art" exhibit has travelled the world since 1995 and, according to its director, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, has attracted as many as 15 million visitors. von Hagens, a German anatomist, developed the plastination technique in which the fats and other soft tissues are removed from a cadaver and replaced with polymers. The body is preserved and can be partially dissected and flayed for display. von Hagens has had many clashes with authorities in countries like Britain where the use of cadavers for research is strictly controlled.

  Archbishop Smith told Metro, a local paper, "It’s hard reconciling a principal of our faith with a scientific practice that preserves the body indefinitely. It’s not clear to me what is done with the bodies when this exhibit is done long term. Whether or not the body is returned to the family for a proper burial."

 In the display, the preserved bodies are shown in lifelike poses, with their skin removed and musculature and bones partly detached. One is posed as though running for a bus; a flayed and partially dissected pregnant woman reclines. Skinless foetuses and a flayed "teacher" with book and chalk in hand are also displayed.

  Christian teaching holds that the human body is more than a disposable "suitcase" for the soul, but is itself a sacred thing that retains its dignity even in death. Christians believe that at the end of time, the earthly bodies of each of the saved will be raised in a "glorified" form similar to that of Christ after the Resurrection. The Catholic Church teaches that the use of the human body for medical research is permissible under certain circumstances but that it must be treated with the utmost respect.

  Spokesman Lori Nagy said Edmonton Catholic Schools recognizes the educational opportunity Body Worlds represents, especially for grades 11 and 12 biology classes.

"We presume that such donation is for a limited time," the bishop said, and expect that bodies will be "handled reverently in such a way as to allow for any desired funeral rites." Catholic teaching also requires that fully informed consent is given by the person before death or posthumously by the deceased’s family.

  While von Hagens organisation insists that the bodies for his Body Worlds display come from European donors who gave lawful consent, other similar exhibitions are coming under increasing scrutiny over the issue of informed consent. In Cincinnati, “Bodies…the Exhibition” has been heavily criticised by a Chinese human rights activist earlier this month, who alleges that the bodies come in part from executed Chinese prisoners.
  Former political prisoner Harry Wu told an audience at Cincinnati University that together with organ harvesting, plastination has created a valuable market for executed Chinese prisoners. Wu estimated as many as 8,000 to 10,000 prisoners may be executed each year in China. “In China, the prison camp is a profit center,” he said.
  The display at at the Cincinnati Museum Center, which is not connected to von Hagens’ work, has sold 150,000 tickets.
  The concern over consent is shared by Republican Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri who introduced a bill to prohibit the importation of all plastinated human remains. Akin said he is concerned that some of the bodies of Chinese people in the “Bodies…the Exhibit” display were acquired without proper consent.
“There are ongoing concerns about China’s human rights policies and a lot of evidence of abuses, and this is particularly troublesome, this idea of plastinated bodies,” Akin said. “The bodies that are used for this should come from people who volunteered.”
  von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit has raised concerns from religious spokesmen in some of its host cities. When the exhibit came to Manchester in the UK in February 2008, the Anglican bishop had much stronger words saying that it "diminishes the value of people."

  Bishop Nigel McCulloch said, "My concern is that the bodies of people who have lived lives, some of whom, I suspect, with quite a bit of suffering, are simply being used effectively for a kind of freaky horror show."

  Read related coverage:
  Flayed and Partially Dissected Human Bodies Displayed in Ontario Science Centre Exhibit

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