Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bodies... and capitalism

Some friends recently suggested a trip to Bodies... The Exhibition, currently showing in Atlanta. Now, I remembered hearing something about this a while back, but decided to do my own investigation. The quote from wikipedia perhaps puts it best:

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo concluded his investigation of Premier, finding "The grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China. Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals. Nor is Premier able to establish that these people consented to their remains being used in this manner. Respect for the dead and respect for the public requires that Premier do more than simply assure us that there is no reason for concern.

They have much more listed under criticisms of this particular exhibit (check out this one from npr), and you can check out any of the links for yourself.

Now, I believe strongly that to live in a capitalist society, people have to be willing to vote with their dollars, and not support financially what is against their morals. Yes, to be fair, no one knows exactly where the bodies came from, only that they were "unclaimed". Yet to me, even if one of the bodies was obtained in an immoral fashion, that is too much. I don't know, perhaps this issue strikes me more than it does most, but there seems something inherently wrong with disrespecting those who have died. I mean, even in times of war the remains of fallen soldiers were often returned to the enemy for a proper burial. The least we, as consumers, can do is require that consent is actually given to those whose bodies have been picked apart and put on display to be gawked at by thousands.

Not to get too high on my horse, as a scientist, I believe there is definite good that can come out of educating the public on human anatomy and physiology. Yet, we as a society should have boundaries on what we accept on scientific and educational merit. After all, not too long ago gross ethical violations were committed by Nazi doctors on unwilling Jewish prisoners, US doctors in the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, etc in the name of science and medicine.


Evelyn said...

Hey - I have been really disturbed by this exhibition since it came out - both because of the consent issue and the idea that we are using bodies not to learn about anatomy in a serious way, but as entertainment. Imagine how much more discussion there would be about this show if it had been Jewish bodies or simply U.S. Nationals? That alone should be cause for concern... why should people care less for Chinese prisoners?

matt said...

if they were tortured and executed by the chinese govt (or any other group with little value for life and rights), the alternative for the bodies was most likely a garbage dump or oven. there's a pretty big surplus of bodies in the world and the few they needed has zero influence over that behavior.
people would be more upset about US nationals because we have rights that would have been violated in order to provide those bodies.

Amanda Z said...

True, an exhibit would have little influence on bad governmental behavior. However, now you add an outside entity that profits from it, and that's a whole other ball game.

As a side note, someone mentioned that we use unclaimed bodies in the US for medical research, so this isn't much different. That doesn't sit very well with me either.

Matthew said...

ideally, what would you rather see happen to the unclaimed bodies used in experiments?

Amanda Z said...

Good question. Unless there's a real shortage of space, I think unclaimed bodies should be treated the same way the majority of people want to be after they're gone. It's likely burial or even cremation, but I can guarantee the majority do not volunteer to donate their body for science, medicine, or some freak show circuit.