Sunday, February 10, 2008

No Body Deserves This (2006)

Dawn and I visited Bodies: The Exhibition at Earl’s Court today. And what a strange thing it was; freakish, fascinating, horrid, extraordinary. In case you’ve not heard of it, this is the exhibition that displays real human beings, dissected and ‘plasticised’.

And somehow, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no religious objections. Nor do I have any ethical objections to dead humans being on display. I’ve seen real post-mortems, hundreds of dead bodies and people in all kinds of various states of disrepair. As a police officer I saw those kinds of things almost daily. It’s not even that I think it’s ghoulish. It’s just … tacky.

It’s one thing to have dissected humans on display. That can only be a good thing. It increases knowledge and destroys taboos. Some of the exhibits were extraordinary and mind-blowing – like the complete circulatory system separated from the rest of its body and appearing as a human shaped wiring diagram. But many of the exhibits are arranged to look like dynamic sports stars or in almost comedic poses. And that seemed tasteless.

Death as entertainment? It didn’t work for me.

How would my kids feel if I were plasticised, stripped of my skin and put on display playing darts? Or diving to save a football from hitting the back of the net? Or playing leapfrog?

I’ve dictated in my will that any part of my body can be used for transplant surgery. And, until recently, I was happy to donate what’s left for medical research. At the end of the day, I’ll be dead so what happens to me post mortem is the very least of my worries. New doctors and surgeons need cadavers to practice on. Researchers need organs to dissect so that they can develop new cures and procedures. But now I might have to review that decision. I want to know that this sort of thing won't happen to me in the name of 'research'. My conkers are not public domain.

While lecturing to junior doctors recently on the Metacognition Course at Barts and the London (St Bartholemew's Teaching Hospital and the London University), I was privileged to see the anatomical exhibits at the Royal London Hospital (where the skeleton of John Merrick - the Elephant Man - is kept). They are equally fascinating and informative ... but don't have the veneer of sensationalism. They are also quite grisly. But surely that's a more realistic and appropriate view of our biology than brightly coloured figures that look like painted plastic?

I can’t see how a dead body pretending to play basketball for all eternity will push medical science forward or save a human life. And I wonder what the exhibits themselves would have thought? As I understand it, their 'willingness' to be used in this way after death is a matter of some debate.

Bodies: The Exhibition just strikes me as a cheap attempt to shock - like The Half Stone Man, The Child with Two Heads and other similar TV shows. What possible use to society are these programmes? It's no wonder they've been labelled as Fat Porn and Freak Porn. Well, here's a new one for you ...

Corpse Porn.

Note: Since I wrote this short review, there have been further concerns expressed about the origin of the bodies used. They were all living Chinese people ... and China isn't exactly world-famous for its record on human rights issues. According to the exhibition organisers, Premier Inc. 'The cadavers were donated for research by the Chinese government, because all the bodies at the time of death allegedly had no close next of kin or immediate families to claim the bodies.' Premier Inc. have also publicly admitted that the cadavers were not willingly donated. Roy Glover, spokesman for Bodies: The Exhibition, said that 'They're unclaimed. We don't hide from it, we address it right up front.' When the exhibition opened first in Tampa, Florida, last summer, the state anatomical board requested documentation proving the corpses were ethically obtained. Dr Lynn Romrell, who chairs the board, says that 'it got only a letter from the show's Chinese plastinator asserting that they were'.

I must also point out that Bodies: The Exhibition has nothing to do with German anatomist Professor Gunther Hagens and his Bodyworlds exhibition. Bodies was created by his protege, Dr Sui Hongjin, and the two have been in bitter legal battles ever since. Hagens states that he can prove the legitimacy of all of his exhibits.


Spud said...

I have to agree. I have no problem with "donor" parts harvested for transplant. I'm glad to help. But this sensationalism serves no purpose in my opinion. These figures could have been sculpted to look just as real. I am shocked and appalled by this abuse of human bodies. I'm no prude... I'd rather be made into a winter coat than posed dunking hoops for some smug fuck to gawp at!

Anonymous said...

You sir, are an ignorant fool.

waynetoretto said...

I live here in vegas, but the real truth is those bodies are not real.