the Jewish Advocate

The following story appeared in the Jewish Advocate on August 4, 2006

and is reprinted by permission.

Sharon man leads protest against exhibit

By Shayndi Raice

A new exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Science using dead bodies to teach about human anatomy has caused a stir, with a Jewish man leading the charge, saying it “shows a profound disrespect for the human body and condition.”

“Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies,” which opened on Sunday, was created by Gunther von Hagens, a German scientist who created plastination, a process that prevents decomposition by replacing body fluids with certain plastics.

Since viewing the exhibition last summer in Cleveland, OH, Aaron Ginsburg, a pharmacist in Sharon, said that the macabre nature of the show – where bodies are contorted into various positions, including yoga poses – does not treat the bodies of the deceased with respect.

“The exhibit purports to be educational but it’s really about show business, money and bringing in the crowds,” Ginsburg told the Advocate. “The whole thing could have been done just as easily without using real bodies.”

Since contacting the Museum of Science with his concerns, Ginsburg picketed four times outside of the museum, hoping to gain enough attention to close the exhibition. While his cause has attracted significant media attention, he has not been able to garner the kind of support necessary to protest the show on a large scale. Despite that, he said he will be satisfied if his picketing causes people to be educated about the show-business nature of “Body Worlds.”

Ginsburg, who consulted Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Temple Israel of Sharon on the Jewish view of “Body Worlds 2,” said that the exhibition violates Jewish notions of human dignity.

“Judaism has very strong feelings about how we treat each other and that extends to how we handle our bodies when we’ve died,” said Ginsburg. “It’s customary to bury the body as soon as possible with the utmost respect and it is not considered nice to make a circus out of them.”

The Museum of Science, however, disagrees.

“I’ve taught biology at the university level for 20 years and no model captures the level of detail that these real specimens do,” said Paul Fontaine, vice president of programs at the Museum of Science.

Fontaine added that the medical profession has been making use of deceased human bodies for centuries and the museum is now making that knowledge available to the masses.

Furthermore, he pointed out that people gave their permission for their bodies to be used in the exhibition when they were living.

“These people, during their lifetime, felt strongly that this was an OK choice for them,” said Fontaine.

But Ginsburg said that such consent does not matter. In a pamphlet he disseminates outside the museum, he wrote: “The fact that people have donated their bodies is irrelevant. They have surrendered their write to privacy, but it is not in their power to surrender their right to dignity. It is incumbent on us, the living, to treat the dead with dignity, no matter what the ‘subjects’ may have intended or authorized.”