Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where are the "Bodies" coming from? That is the question.

This week I have had two separate conversations with two separate strangers on the subway who were gazing over my head while I happened to be seated in front of a large ad for the Bodies exhibit. If you haven’t heard of the exhibit, check out some info here.

I actually started to talk to them (this is very uncharacteristic for me, I normally avoid talking to strangers) because I was curious about their outrage at something I thought was an interesting medical display. I haven’t been to see the Bodies exhibit yet. I had been entertaining the idea, but still a little skeeved out by the idea that it is real people’s bodies they are showing. Now after I’ve been hearing all about where the bodies come from by way of the aforementioned strangers on the subway, I am having second thoughts.

Ever wonder where all those bodies came from? Well, apparently this is the source of the outrage the people I encountered had. The bodies come from a medical school in Dalian, a coastal city in China. The university owns the bodies, and is leasing them to Premier Exhibitions for $25 million over a 5 year period for use in the exhibits.

The Chinese government has provided certificates that “guarantee” that none of the bodies has been a murder victim, prisoner, mental patient, or aborted fetus. However, in a country that is notorious for human rights abuses, many don’t put much faith in these “guarantees.” Both people I spoke with are of the mind that the bodies were victims of Chinese government executions.

Strange coincidence? Perhaps not. China has been put under growing scrutiny this year to reduce the number of executions for capital punishment from nations around the world, and from organizations such as Amnesty International. Human rights watchdog groups are troubled by the idea that people did not give consent for their bodies to be displayed before their death, and that after recent Chinese government bans on the black market sale of body parts the Bodies exhibit might just be another way for China to hide the bodies so to speak in a seemingly legitimate scientific forum. There is widespread poverty in China, a huge financial incentive, and previous record of government secrecy and rights abuses. Should the Bodies exhibit really be taking these on faith that the bodies were obtained in an ethical manner?

Public opinion of New Yorkers on the subway is clear. It is a vehement No.

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