A little over a week ago, I wrote a really long post about Bodies: The Exhibition. Since then, I have received many, many comments about the post usually in the form of an email. Most of them were positive, a few not so much.
Here’s the deal. About three years ago, there was something in the news about an exhibit called “Body Worlds”. I barely paid attention to it at the time because I thought religious zealots began the whole stink. Recently, I have found out what it was really about. Apparently the fella who began BodyWorlds was under attack for possibly attaining the bodies illegally. There was a massive ethical debate over whether this was right. After all, he was using these bodies for profit and they weren’t always displayed kindly. This wasn’t done in the name of science; it’s not backed by any major medical organization. Now, I might be wrong about some of these details, so please, by all means, correct me should I report something incorrectly.
The German fella, Gunther Von Hagens, started BodyWorlds. Bodies: The Exhibition was started by an Asian man who was once Günter’s and has since moved on with a competing exhibit. That exhibit is the one I wrote about.
Last Thursday, a man who works for Bodies contacted me.
Hey, Michele. You left your email address and phone number with us after you went through the exhibition. I really liked your email address, mihow.com. Can I volunteer for you? Perhaps we can work out some type of bartering? Great work.
I listened to it again trying to figure out what he was saying. And quite honestly, I’m still unsure. Instead of calling him back right away, I waited. I wanted to talk to Toby about it. If this guy had read my site, I might have some explaining to do because the further removed I was from the exhibit, the more and more the potentially unethical way in which these bodies were attained bugged me. I needed to find out more about this whole ethical debate because the more and more I thought about it, the more and more it became glaringly clear that there was no way ALL those specimens were donated entirely in the name of science. No way at all. Seriously.
Back in the day, scientists, medical doctors, people who wanted to save lives, pursued drastic measures in order to study the human body. Before science enabled people like myself to donate their body, people actually dug up the dead in order to study them. Sometimes, they would do so right at the gravesites.
When I heard about this, I remember thinking, “Well, it’s gross and might seem wrong, but if you’re none the wiser and they save future lives with their knowledge, is that wrong?” No harm done, right? I deemed this act as a good one.
Donating your body to science in order to better the lives of the living I have deemed as a right and kind act.
The Mutter museum in Philadelphia, set up for medical students at University of Penn, is an educational experience. Many of the specimens you’ll see there are made from wax. I have been a fond patron of the Mutter museum and have learned from the experience time and time again. Again, I have deemed the Mutter Museum as good.
In Garden State, Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) steals jewelry from the dead and sells it for profit. I deemed this act as a bad one. But then, at the end, when he returns a sentimental piece of jewelry to Largeman because it makes more sense that it’s with him than in the ground with his dead mother. Well, that changed things a bit. I deemed this act as a forgivable one. (I know that last part was seized from fiction. But it still triggered the taboo button.)
Unethically attaining bodies for profit, even if we the public learns from said display, I feel is very, very wrong. I have tried to convince myself otherwise, because the exhibit, and my own mortality, without a doubt, inspired me. But no matter how I felt after the exhibit, I always come back to that same thought: had I discovered that one of those bodies was actually a member of my family, it would have brought me to tears. I’d want nothing more than to take them down from the display, cover them with a blanket and finally lay them to rest.
I’m an organ donor and plan on donating my body to science when I die. I figure that in order understand the living we have to also understand the dead. I realize that donating a body to science can better the greater common good. But unethically taking bodies and using them to profit seems like the work of a madman, or (for the religious) the Devil himself.
It’s been a week since I got the phone call and I’m still torn. After receiving an email from him over the weekend, I wrote him back to find out a little more about his needs and what he might expect from me. He was vague with his answer but wishes to meet with me to discuss it further. A part of me wants to go “undercover” and find out whatever I can about the people behind the exhibit because knowing the truth might help me to come to terms with my struggle. Knowing the truth might also make me feel worse.