Irreverent Bodies Exhibit Breathes its Last in New York

By some standards irreverent, the Bodies Exhibition that uses skinless corpses animated in life-like positions as its trademark has been operating in six cities across the U.S. Now, however it's just five.

The New York State Attorney General's office successfully shut down the exhibition in New York City's touristy South Street Seaport last Thursday after its management company, Premier Exhibitions, said they couldn't prove that the bodies they obtained in China were from consenting human beings.

"The grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China, " said Attorney General Cuomo, in a press release. "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." The settlement makes all visitors to the New York City Bodies Exhibition eligible for ticket refunds.

The corpses are preserved and animated through plastination, a technique in which the skin is removed and the bodily fluids drained and replaced with plastic. The technique was developed by Gunther von Hagens of Germany, who is currently involved with similar exhibits.

Von Hagens' work and shows have raised serious ethical concerns, especially in Germany, which is still sensitive to gory scenes after the Holocaust. Von Hagens' work has been compared to when the Nazis turned victims' skin into lampshades.

Munich officials banned von Hagens from their city in 2003. In January 2004, German magazine Der Spiegel claimed he had used bodies from Chinese executions. Von Hagens left Germany in 2004.

Kirk Donahoe, assistant director of the Laogai Research Foundation, a non-profit organization that gathers information on China's extensive system of forced labor camps and documents systemic human rights violations in China, said in a press release, "This investigation has shed light on how certain U.S. exhibitions profited from the execution of Chinese prisoners."

The Laogai Foundation calls upon "other law enforcement authorities to take similar action in other states and to help to bring these abuses to an end." Other Bodies Exhibitions are currently being held in Nevada, New Jersey, Florida, Hawaii, and Ohio

Elaine Katz was an education coordinator for the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylavania for nearly 11 years until she resigned last year to protest the museum's decision to host the Bodies Exhibition.

"While many versions of the exhibit continue to travel around the country, [the Bodies Exhibition] has now packed up and shipped out of Pittsburgh, " said Elaine.

In April, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin introduced the bill H.R. 5677 that would prohibit the importation into the United States of plastinated human remains. Both ethicists and scientists have protested these exhibits of unclaimed and unidentified cadavers.

Thomas Hibbs, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University, compared cadaver displays to pornography in that they reduce the subject to "the manipulation of body parts stripped of any larger human significance."

Concerns have been expressed about the educational aspects, especially the inclusion of these displays for school field trips. Critics say these shows don't so much educate as they do desecrate the human body for profit.

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