dianne ridder

This article originally appeared in the West Seattle Herald Ballard News-Tribune and is posted with permission of the Herald-News and of the author.

Op-Ed - 'Bodies' exhibit is unethical

By Dianne Rider

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

When I drove into West Seattle, one of the billboards made me throw up

a little, in the back of my throat. Maybe you've seen it? It's the one

for Bodies, the Exhibition and it flaunts having "real human bodies."

Now, I didn't almost throw up for the typical reasons because I have

been working with cadavers in my anatomy lab for an entire semester.

They don't bother me one bit. Our cadavers are treated with respect

and dignity and they consented to be there. All of which are concepts

that are very foreign to the cadavers in Bodies.

The human remains used in Bodies, according to their official Website,

are unclaimed Chinese citizens. To use unclaimed bodies in such a

manner is unethical and a violation of personal autonomy and human


The human remains in this exhibition were plastinated, which is a

method of indefinite preservation. Being preserved indefinitely in a

concept that opposes many spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions.

Due to the unclaimed status of these bodies, it would be unethical to

assume that they would want to undergo the process of plastination.

Such an assumption would be a violation of their personal autonomy. If

no funerary wishes were left, then it would be more logical to dispose

of their remains according to local custom.

Also, if the bodies used in this exhibition were unclaimed, it seems

unlikely that before they died they gave their informed consent. In

most cases where unclaimed bodies are used, informed consent is not

required. However, in most cases where unclaimed bodies are used, the

bodies are not used to make a profit, their likeness is not reproduce

for public viewing, they are not preserved indefinitely, and you can't

buy t-shirts with their pictures on it.

The intent of this exhibition is not to train the future healthcare

workers of the world or to refresh the skills of current healthcare

workers such as surgeons. This exhibition, like any other traveling

exhibition, exists to make a profit. Only they are profiting by using

human remains. These were not some recovered treasure from a sunken

ship, they were walking, talking people and they deserve respect, even

if they are dead.

Due to the sensational dissections, gift shop, public viewing, and

indefinite preservation special care should be taken to ensure that

all bodies used in any such exhibition gave their informed consent to

be there. To disregard this important factor would be to ignore the

actual slippery slope that occurs when personal autonomy is

overlooked. We all can remember the corpse-selling scandal at UCLA,

the medical trials preformed during the Holocaust, or the cremation

scandal in Georgia where the bodies were not cremated but left to rot

and the ashes of concrete, dust, and pebbles were given to the

families; the slippery slope is alive and well. If these people did

not give their informed consent, they shouldn't be there.

According to Section 788 Article 11.1 of the San Francisco Police

Code, human remains are prohibited from being displayed without

appropriate written authorization from the deceased or the deceased's

next of kin. This legislation was passed in response to public

discomfort at the lack of consent papers for the human remains in

Bodies, and in effect banned the exhibition from the city.

Who do these people think they are, that they can assume the consent

of these cadavers, plastinate their remains and drag them around the

world? Nobody has the right to do that. This exhibition is a disgrace

to humanity.

Dianne Rider an undergraduate student at Washington State University

and wrote this piece from a paper she wrote for her biomedical ethics

class. She can be reached via wseditor@robinsonnews.com.