Dying To Be a Model

There’s a guest column in today’s Seattle PI by my brother, Matthew Ruane. He’s railing against the artsy exhibition “Bodies“. Here’s a quote from the Op-Ed:

The exploitation of the poor by the rich no longer ends with death. Once, the poor believed that all were equal in the eyes of the Grim Reaper. Thanks to “Bodies — The Exhibit,” which runs through Dec. 31, the poor need worry that their remains (that they foolishly donated to better mankind) can be procured by entertainers and propped up in lifelike poses for the amusement of the rich.

One disadvantage to an Op-Ed, however, is that you cannot link to your sources. (Ha! Internet PWNs the print media again!)

Here’s an excerpt from National Geographic online talking about the sources of the cadavers used for the exhibit:

The bodies in question are unclaimed or unidentified individuals from China. As such, neither the deceased nor their families consented to the use of the corpses in the exhibit.

Now proponents of the expo are arguing that this is akin to cadavers used in medical schools to teach people about anatomy. In fact, the “Bodies” website states:

All of the bodies were obtained through the Dailan Medical Plastination Laboratories in the People’s Republic of China. Asia possesses the largest and most highly competent group of dissectors in the world, and and they are highly skilled in preparing the bodies for educational and scientific purposes. Currently, human specimens in medical schools in China and the US and other countries throughout the world are donated or unidentified bodies.

What a bunch of spin. “The China and the US do the same thing– what could possibly be wrong with that?”

Well, does the US gather up the homeless, skin them, then pose them playing badminton? The difference between the US and China is most human cadavers are donated. Some who want to help through organ donation cannot (by cancer, disease, or other damage) and instead donate their body to science. This is voluntary and part of a last request, so there is no ethical dilemma. China, on the other hand, gathers up the bodies of the dead (homeless, prisoners, the recently executed) and harvests what they can. Those they can’t steal organs from to sell across the globe, they “donate to science”. Nice of the state to think for the dead.

There’s an issue here, brought up by Mr. Ruane, that hits the nail on the head– respect. Whenever medical science deals with the dead, they respect the dead. Medical students pay homage to their cadavers all the time, a last “thank you” before they are relegated to burial or cremation. But where is the respect in sealing the bodies in plastic and then posing them for amusement? It doesn’t really advance medical science– we know what the muscles do when we kick or throw a ball. But posing a body playing volleyball– is that “science”? Or splitting a body mostly down the middle, just connecting it by just the stomach how is that respectful? It’s grotesque.

What’s worse is people are paying $25 a head to see the bodies displayed in such a fashion. And it’s not just adult cadavers. It’s children and even that of an aborted fetus.

Do we really want to be teaching our children how little value we place on human life? There’s not respect in gathering those neglected by society, preserving them, then posing them is “stances”. There’s no education value. Just a morbid display of how little life is worth in China, and how a lack of any kind of moral substance by a society will cheapen life so it becomes entertainment instead of treasure.


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My name is Doc. Welcome to my blog. If you're visiting from another blog, add me to your blogroll (and I'll happily reciprocate). I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry and live in Wisconsin. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. My email is docattheautopsy at gmail. (No linking to deflate the incredible spam monsters).



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