Check out those glutes… directly

Great news – the BODIES exhibit is coming to our area in April and it’ll be in the old Newseum space in Rosslyn. The Post article about it was filled with blah-blah-blah about the controversy that never seems to die down around the various polymer-preserved bodies shows, but what you should really know is that this one is an amazing look into our bodies. I got to see the exhibit in New York City last fall and it’s nothing short of astounding, and that’s from someone who, as the son of a pathology nurse, probably has gotten to see more inner workings than the average bear. Just the display of a full lung circulatory system with all the surrounding bits removed is worth the price of admission. If you’ve ever, say, lurched your clumsy self across a half-frozen parking lot, you might find it hard to believe there’s that much fine & delicate machinery inside you.

With regards to the question of what level of consent may or may not have been received from the former controllers of these displayed bodies, I suggest this: get the hell over it. As far as I’m concerned, every one of you people who shows this over-enthusiastic level of interest in what’s done with your carrying case after you’re finished inhabiting are is hurting the people who keep walking the earth after you’re gone. Barring organ donation, I think education – even in the guise of entertainment – is a perfectly good use of our leftover meat.

Before I hear from a single one of you about prisoner treatment in China, where many of these bodies came from, tell me: have you signed up to be an organ donor yet?

21 Comments so far

  1. monavano (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 9:22 am

    As someone who has done gross anatomy twice, I appreciate these dissections and think them to be educational as well as fascinating. The meticulous work is painstaking, with every piece of adipose and fascia carefully removed to reveal the underlying anatomy.
    As for the donors, consider Harriet, who donated her body to science through the university she worked at. In the end, she’s still on display at Hahneman University in Philadelphia. Her entire nervous system and eyeballs!
    http://www.ushistory.org/oddities/harriet.htm


  2. Arlene (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 10:37 am

    You are fairly dismissive of a long standing human tradition to respect the body in death as much as life. Regardless of religious aspects, humans have long looked at the dead as just as precious during life. You so easily cast aside the thoughts of billions of people who truly believe that the body is a precious vehicle for the soul, and who feel that taking remains without said permission from the…previous owner is disrespectful. So get over yourself and your astute sense of reason over emotion. How would you like it if you had always believed you would be donated to science and instead were put into the ground and prayed over? Furthermore, I was under the impression this blog was for propagating DC news, not commentary on ethical arguments.

    Having said that, I have tickets to see this thing in NYC this weekend, purchased before I knew it was coming here. DAMNIT. Talk about bad timing. Oh well. YAY DEAD CHINESE BODIES. I’m stoked. I may even drag more friends to see it once it arrives in DC.


  3. Doug (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 11:29 am

    The study of human cadavers for the advancement of medical science has a very long history. Even up to as late as the 19th century, freshly buried bodies were regularly exhumed from their graves with no consent from the families.

    Ethics aside, I’m looking forward to this exhibit. Thanks for the heads-up Don. ;-)


  4. wayan (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 11:46 am

    Agh! Tickets for DC are not on sale yet. Don, I expect you to keep us posted as to when they do. I can’t wait to see innards exposed.


  5. Don (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

    What’s your feelings towards honoring the longstanding human traditions of subjugating women to the will of men, or cultures that practice FGM, Arlene? Clearly those, as things that torment the living, are worse offenses, but at some point we need to be prepared to jettison tradition in favor of reason. Perfect post-life preservation of bodies a thousand years ago didn’t harm anyone, but now we have the ability to extend and improve life through organ re-use. The newest statistic I could quickly find is that every day in the US 12 people on the organ donor recipient list die before a candidate organ is found. In 97 there were 55,000 people waiting for an organ but only about 20,000 would get them and less than 50% of the people asked would agree to donate.

    If the body hangup was purely around displays like BODIES it wouldn’t even be on my radar, though I think it serves a valid educational need. However I have met many people who won’t be organ donors because they don’t want their corpse to be unattractive at a funeral (a false concern for the most part) or just are uncomfortable with handing away something they view as part of them. A friend of a friend once said she wouldn’t even consider donating her cord blood from her upcoming birth because she didn’t like the idea. Putting it into the trash was easier for her to consider. I’m not prepared to get over myself when it comes to railing against attitudes like that – we need to put the living first.

    As far as the purpose of DC Metblogs, we’re here to talk about local events and issues but we do not purport or attempt to be an impartial newspaper. The Post does a pretty good job with that and we’re happy to leave it to them. The BODIES exhibit makes me think about the question of our organs and where public interest and private hangups intersect. A similar moral/ethical issue sparked some talk on another post here some weeks back regarding plans for compel teen girls to be immunized against HPV.

    We’re a group of people interested in the area and how it impacts us, both in what it compels us to do and how we feel about what happens here. I realize I may be wasting my time and yours trying to convey this to you – we’re just fodder to help motivate you to thump your forehead into your desk – but maybe it’ll make it clear to you why we never ‘scoop’ anyone – as far as I know, none of us are necessarily trying to get anywhere first. We’re just living our lives here in the city and talking about the experience of it. Sometimes that means noticing picketers more than a year after they started, being cranky about potholes and drivers, seeing & talking about plays at the end of their runs, etc etc.

    I hope you keep reading (even if you’re misusing schadenfreude – we’re not the ones suffering misfortune; we write here because we enjoy it); maybe we’ll eventually produce something you enjoy. Believe it or not, I enjoyed getting your reaction.


  6. Doug (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

    Personally, I’d like to see more posts about hamsters and perfectly roasted chicken. Now that’s relevant!


  7. Mike (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

    I’m not religious but it’s important to me to extend the same respect to someone in death that I’d extend them in life. I’ll never go to or pay a dime to one of these things — unless possibly if they create one where every person who’s hanging on display gave their consent. The advisor quoted in the post article doesn’t even try to claim that these people ever gave consent to this.

    I think the reason otherwise ethical people can so easily go to these things without any qualms is that the sources are so out of sight and out of mind. If some homeless guys we saw in DC every day froze one night and the answer to when we asked what was going to happen to the bodies was, “Well, if no one claims them, we’re going to cut them up, put them on display, and charge money for people to come look,” then maybe the exhibit would be greeted with a little less enthusiasm. Don’t ya think?

    But yes, the exhibit coming here is very much DC news and so appropriate for posting and discussion here.


  8. Tiffany (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

    I think you’re (Mike) making a baseline assumption that putting a corpse into a hole in the ground or incinerating it to ashes (which are what we do with unclaimed bodies here in the US) is a fundamentally more respectful thing to do than to use it for educational purposes. I’m not sure that I agree with that. (I’m not sure that I disagree, either, but it’s an assumption that deserves to be questioned, particularly since those traditions evolved as a way to keep the decomposition away from the living.)

    The article does make clear that the bodies which were obtained without specific affirmative consent from the people who previously inhabited them were obtained legally under laws that specify what is done with bodies where there is no consent one way or the other. One can certainly argue the ethics of obtaining bodies from China, which doesn’t exactly have a sterling record of laws respecting the sovereign rights of its citizenry, but assuming that the default position of respect for a corpse must be its destruction seems a little primitive.


  9. Mike (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

    It’s not being used for educational purposes and we all know that. It’s being used for entertainment purposes.

    If this exhibit were about education they could just as easily use plastic models. But there’s no gimmick in that and they wouldn’t get people lining up to pay to see it.

    Yes, I know they were obtained legally under Chinese law. Just like DC could make it legal to buy the unclaimed corpses of the homeless, cut them into pieces and sell tickets to an exhibition of it. I’m not even saying it should be illegal, I’m just saying why I find it offensive and why you wouldn’t catch me dead in one of those shows … unless no one claims my body and these guys buy it.


  10. Arlene (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

    Mike makes a much better point. Come on, even if people learn something from this exhibit, it’s still for entertainment. If this exhibit is really about education, why not get rid of the exorbitant $30 ticket price (that’s for NYC)? That argument would’ve held more water, IMO.

    I wasn’t saying I disagree with you regarding our obsession with the body after death. Far from it. I really could care less what will happen to me and what with the current state of population vs. space for dead bodies, it’s clear that we’re going to have to make some hard decisions about our traditions soon. I’m JUST SAYIN you are fairly dismissive of a very sensitive topic and very universal (vs. FGM) matter.

    Hamsters are ALWAYS relevant. Always.


  11. Tiffany (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

    Why not get rid of the high ticket price? Um, because exhibit space and staffing is freakin’ expensive in large cities? And since when do educational value and profit have to be mutually exclusive?

    Personally, I fail to see what’s so *entertaining* about a bunch of preserved bodies. (Unless, of course, they’re rigged up like marionnettes and do the can-can. That would be cool as hell.) I’m sure there are people out there who find that sort of thing entertaining, but I expect there are also just as many people who are genuinely interested in the workings of the human body and who never got the opportunity to learn about them up close because they chose not to go to med school. It’s a pretty dismal view of one’s fellow citizens to assume that such a small minority of them might be interested in such an exhibit purely because they enjoy learning stuff. (I always thought I was the queen of low expectations of my fellow citizens. I guess I am wrong.) Some of us actually find education to BE entertaining. Shocking, I know.

    (And if plastic models were equally as educational as actual bodies, med schools wouldn’t need cadavers and high school bio classes wouldn’t do dissections.)


  12. Mike (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

    For the purposes of this show, plastic models would be just as educational. Cadavers in med schools are used to teach things like how to perform surgery, how to cut through bone, what happens when you pull guts out, etc. In these shows all the models are static and from the viewer’s perspective there would be no difference at all if they were made of plastic. The only difference is the gimmick wouldn’t be there and they wouldn’t sell 10% of the tickets they are now.


  13. Arlene (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

    Last I checked, both the Phillips and Corcoran offered major exhibitions for about…$12? Assuming that the cost of insuring and exhibiting priceless works of art is about the same as the cost of preserving said bodies, then…yeah. Not buying it. When was the last time you paid $30 for a ticket to any sort of exhibit? MOMA doesn’t cost that much. The Baltimore Aquarium doesn’t cost that much and I’m pretty sure it takes a lot of staff and money to maintain a giant building full of water and live animals.

    Furthermore, you need to look at motives. Who is funding this project? Why is it being done? Under what guise? Cynicism or Naivete. Pick a side.

    PS Educational institutions never work for profit. It goes against ethical standards regarding the dissemination of information and education.


  14. Carl Weaver (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

    My wife and I are very excited about this show. Thanks, Don!

    I will not leave my body to science when I am gone. I think medical schools should follow tradition and illegally buy cadavers from morticians and crematorium managers who have gambling debts and second families to take care of.

    I have given my wife clear instructions about what to do with my body, should she survive me. Throw it out in the yard, stick a soup bone up my ass and let the dogs drag me away. It’s a hijacked vehicle for use on this planet. When we are gone it becomes useless except as worm food or else to spawn new episodes of Law and Order, which will be watched by our dutiful offspring.


  15. Doug (unregistered) on February 19th, 2007 @ 9:52 pm

    The perfectly roasted hamster?


  16. Tiffany (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 9:14 am

    It’s demonstrably untrue that educational institutions are always nonprofit. There are an increasing number of successful charter schools run by for-profit companies. Meanwhile, textbook companies, curriculum development companies, etc. are almost always for-profit. And honestly, the reason most educational institutions are non-profit has nothing to do with “ethics” and everything to do with taxes and accepting public money. I fundamentally reject the premise that profit is at odds with education. Frankly, I think a little more capitalism would do education some good.


  17. Don (unregistered) on February 20th, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

    At $22 the Baltimore Aquarium is closer in price to BODIES’ $30 than it is the Corcoran and Phillips’ $12 you mention. And that’s after a sizable amount of donations the Aquarium has taken in. Rosslyn residents who want to go see BODIES will pay their $30 in addition to $0 tax dollars. Baltimore residents pay $22 for admission to a facility that the city paid over 20 million to construct and which is run with 15M in other city-derived funds. 7.5M of that is from a “bond initiative” which is code for property or sales tax.

    I’m in favor of public funding of the arts and education (provided it’s effectively managed and has good oversight) but let’s not pretend there’s no financial impact or some inherent nobility to non-profit institutions. They have a different tax structure and one doesn’t pay out profits to owners. That doesn’t mean they don’t make and spend money, or that one does it in a manner superior to the other.

    Case in point: I once sat in a meeting (when I was employed by a state educational institution) where we were told with great glee just how much money the bookstore had made in the previous year. This was greeted with enthusiasm since all profits there were put into scholarship funds. Indeed, great news if you’re a scholarship recipient but maybe not so much if you’re an average joe paying high prices for textbooks. Being pre-internet venues, students for the most part just paid what the bookstore charged and gritted their teeth – there were few alternatives.

    That institution as a whole was non-profit, but that one portion of it was not. Personally I think it should have been run to minimize profits so as to maximize benefits for all students, not just scholarship recipients, but a case can be made both ways. My point is just that the question of profit/non-profit is more complicated than just a word (hyphenated or not :) can convey.


  18. ld (unregistered) on February 21st, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

    “assuming that the default position of respect for a corpse must be its destruction seems a little primitive.”

    Not necessarily. Buddhism (perhaps not all sects, but the one that I belong to) teaches that one’s next reincarnation will be sooner if remains are cremated.


  19. Mike (unregistered) on February 21st, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

    Good point LD, and also I don’t assume or claim what the default treatment for someone’s body should be — my point was that I would hope we could at least agree what it shouldn’t be. I figure poor dudes in China have enough problems, we should at least be able to give them assurance that they won’t end up part of Jeffery Dahmer sideshow after they pass away unless they give consent.


  20. Don (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2007 @ 9:07 am

    We obviously couldn’t have more different opinions of this show, Mike. I don’t agree it would be just as effective in plastic models nor would I call it a “sideshow.” What you call a gimmick I think makes the difference between a non-compelling and dry explanation and insight. The fact that the show entertains while educating I find just as irrelevant as the fact that kids find Sesame Street entertaining, or that people enjoy playing basketball. The benefits are still there even if they may be a secondary payoff. Maybe that’s also why I don’t think it’s all that pertinent that the people behind the show actually turn a profit.


  21. Mike (unregistered) on February 22nd, 2007 @ 9:45 am

    We do have different opinions. When I see a dead man propped up to make him look like he’s a kicking a soccer ball I definitely don’t think of education or Sesame Street or the miracle of consentual organ donation. It might not be entirely rational, but I know that if one of my loved ones died and was sold to become what to me is little more than a display mannequin for a traveling show, I’d be deeply disturbed.

    The free market has made it obvious that my opinion is very much in the minority. I can’t help but think that if there was a trend in China of buying American bodies and propping them up in entertaining poses that it would raise quite a controversy here. Lou Dobbs and every cable news talking head would go ape. But as long as it’s only the opposite that’s happening then ticket sales will remain as strong as ever.



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