Bodies Exhibit: Ethics and Dignity in Death?
A few months ago I had the chance to go see The Bodies Exhibit in Boston while I was visiting my sister. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s pretty weird. Real human bodies have been “plastisized” and displayed in some of the strangest and bizarre fashions. Some bodies have all the skin removed, some remove everything but the veins and arteries (yeah, seriously!), some bodies are split in half so you can see inside, and some sliced into 15 or more sections, so you can see a cross-section of each part. It’s really freaky. Pictures and controversy below.
Pretty freaky (you have to see it to believe it). In any case, for some, Bodies is a very real ethical problem. There are two reasons:
1. It is unclear where the bodies are coming from. Most of them, clearly, are from China. But there is some reason to believe that they have been acquired in less than honest ways. Some are alleging that the bodies come from executed prisoners who did not consent to allowing their bodies to be used in these ways. Of course, add to this that it is all for profit; Bodies is run by a for-profit company. It’s not a museum. So here is the first problem: is it unethical to use a body in a way that it’s owner did not agree to?
2. Are there ways of manipulating the dead and using them for our purposes that should simply be seen as unethical, regardless of the owner’s intentions? In other words, even IF the owner agrees, does ethics still demand that we not use the body in such a way? Some argue: treating the body in this way is undignified and does a basic disrespect to humanity itself. It dishonors what we are, some say. Others, of course, argue: if we can learn something from it, it is perfectly fine, as long as permission is given.
What do you think? Does Bodies cross the line? If so, why?