Bodies: The Exhibition







Bodies: The Exhibition













Bodies: The Exhibition

The purpose of this essay is to offer a commentary and critical discussion for the exhibition-design module class based on the case study, Bodies: The Exhibition. The essay will also discuss and evaluate ethical considerations on the use of human remains for display in the exhibition. In this context, the essay will consider assessment of the ethical and moral issues, which exhibition designer must take into consideration while addressing their goals and targets in designing exhibitions.

The exhibit focuses on displaying human remains of the Chinese citizens, as well as residents received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. In most cases, the Chinese Bureau of Police might receive bodies from the Chinese prisons. It is impossible for the Premier, designer of Bodies: The Exhibition, to verify, independently, the essence of human remains as not being of those of persons who did undergo incarceration in the various Chinese prisons. The exhibit focuses on displaying full body cadavers and human body parts, organs, embryos, and fetuses coming from various miscarriages.

Over 15 million individuals across the world have been able to experience Bodies: the Exhibition. Categorically, since the earliest efforts by the ancient Egyptians in distinguishing the individual organs, practitioners have been able to demonstrate the urge or desire to uncover diverse secrets concerning the human body. It is essential to highlight that the study of human anatomy continues to remain the vital element in the medical education. Nonetheless, most people do not have the desired opportunity to view the human anatomy. The exhibition plays a critical role in offering millions of visitors across the world the unprecedented access to the anatomical detail, which had been available to the medical professionals only.

Bodies: The Exhibition provides an intimate, as well as informative perception of the human body. The exhibition has been able to adopt and integrate innovative preservation process in the course of allowing visitors to see or conceptualize the inner beauty of the human body concerning the educational, as well as awe-inspiring approaches (Van Dijck, 2001). The exhibition has more than 200 cadavers, which underwent meticulous dissection before respectful display. The approach is valuable in the provision of an unprecedented, as well as unique perception of the human body.

The designers have used polymer preservation in the preparation of the specimens in the exhibition. In this technique, the human tissue undergoes permanent preservation through liquid silicone rubber. The process is ideal for the creation of the specimen with the ability to withstand decay. This is valuable for the numerous unique teaching possibilities for educators at different levels. For instance, biologists might use the features to explore different human organs. On the other hand, medical practitioners might improve their awareness of the human anatomy based on the design. In the execution of the process, the designers focus on the utilization of different duration for the preparation (Barilan, 2006; Riederer, 2014). For instance, it is possible for the small organs to take about one week to prepare. On the other hand, a full-body specimen might take about a year to undergo full preparation.

Following an effective or quality preservation, the specimens last for decades. The exhibitions provide the platform for the individuals to have a look at the systems of the human body, thus, the opportunity to see diverse features and organs. These organs or elements include skeletal, nervous, muscular, digestive, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, circulatory, endocrine, and circulatory systems (Dreyfuss, Henry, & Tilley, 1993). Alternatively, individuals have the ability and potentiality to engage in exploring, experiencing, and celebrating the wonderful aspects of the human body.

In spite of the educational aspect of the exhibition, there have been various controversies bordering ethical and legal perspective. In an article published on Daily Mail, Leake Christopher sought to highlight the negative reception of the exhibition to use human remains at various events. The exhibition tends to integrate the bodies or human remains of the Chinese prisoners in the ghoulish exhibition of the ‘plastinated’ corpses. According to Leake’s article, Dr. David Nicholl, a human rights activist, sought to seek answers from and recommend the HTA (Human Tissue Authority) charged with the provision or licensing of the Bodies show to shut down the exhibition based on its criminal aspect (Leake, 2010).

It is essential to note that the controversial event is an output of the US-based premier exhibitions insisting that all the cadavers emanate from the individuals who choose to donate their bodies or human remains for the medical reasons, as evident in the show in Birmingham. Nonetheless, Nicholl believes that this is far from the truth. According to him, these body parts or human remains tend to come from the executed Chinese prisoners, as well as the victims of torture before preservation in polymer (Leake, 2010). In the article, the doctor accuses the organizers of taking the ‘blood money’ based on the entrance fee for the exhibition. Based on this argument, Nicholl believes that the organizers need to guarantee that the bodies or human remains in the exhibitions are not of the individuals who underwent execution in the context of China.

In the absence of conclusive proof, it is appropriate for the HTA to focus on closing or shutting down the exhibition. In the event held in Birmingham, there lacked unequivocal guarantee on the essence of the bodies or human remains not being the victims of torture, as well as execution concerning the case of China. Based on the article, the Premier Exhibitions did manage to offer a substantive affidavit to the HTA highlighting that the human remains in the exhibition did originate in China (Leake, 2010). Previously, the exhibition had to deal with controversies surrounding the suppliers of the human remains who sought to engage in the commercial aspect of these interesting activities.

Ethically, the HTA integrates the standards and mechanisms or principles, which influence engagement of the human remains or body parts, especially in the context of the United Kingdom. The exhibitor had the platform to highlight the confirmation from the suppliers on the origin of the organ specimens and bodies in the Bodies Revealed. The remains did come from the people who made the individual decisions to donate their body parts and organs for the medical science (Leake, 2010). Moreover, these people lost their lives from the lives from the natural causes rather than aspects of torture or execution. Categorically, the investigators were able to ascertain lack of substantive evidence of physical abuse upon critical examinations of the specimens, thus, the platform to believe the statements from the exhibitors on the urge of the people to donate their bodies for the scientific reasons (Schulte-Sasse, 2006).

Based on these aspects and debates, it is essential to note that the bodies’ exhibits have been able to spark substantive moral debate.  In such exhibitions, one has the tendency to see a skeleton upon entering the exhibition design (Rolfes, 2008). The designers use various cadavers or human remains at different aspects in the exhibition. Continuous movement from one room to another across the exhibit will enable individuals to encounter numerous human cadavers without any skin, as well as with exposed muscles. In certain instances, these human remains are peeled back with the intention of revealing various body elements or organs. One of the fascinating elements is the fact that some of these dead persons tend to stand like the store mannequins (Jones, 2002; Jones 2007). The issue proves to be interesting because they are real human bodies, which one might confuse with a statue. Upon preparation, the bodies withstand decay, thus, retaining the elements of the human body making it a fascinating encounter. On the other hand, certain dead persons integrate various poses such as playing basketball or soccer. For instance, there is one image of a woman displaying the act of opening her chest for the audiences to have a clear view of her internal organs (Rolfes, 2008). In the exhibitions, there are various showcases with the integration of the different parts of the body. It is possible for the audiences to gaze at different human brains such as the brains, nerves, intestines, sexual organs, and other blood vessels as evident in the distilled water in the midst of the subdued lighting.

In the statement mentioned above, one of the critical aspects of this moral issue is evident in the Bodies: The Exhibition, which is an output of the Premier Exhibitions. The exhibition is in Cincinnati, as well as other four cities across the world. The exhibition competes for attention against other global exhibits such as the Bodies Revealed and Body Worlds. Surprisingly, these exhibitions have been able to attract more viewers; thus, the platform to break records for attendance. Based on the ethical and cultural issues relating to the dead bodies, it would be logical for the exhibitions to attract fewer and weird people or audiences. Nonetheless, the exhibitions continue to break records concerning the number of audiences. Moreover, these exhibitions depict or feature actual human remains or bodies, which undergo preservation through the process of plastination (Rolfes, 2008). It is essential to highlight that China engages in supplying the bodies because of the ability and expertise of the nation to execute finest dissection technology in the contemporary world(Greenberg, Ferguson, & Nairne, 1996). According to the Premier Exhibitions, all the human cadavers at the exhibitions are the bodies of the individuals who did lose their lives based on the natural causes, thus, the platform to offer affidavits in substantiating the claims (Rolfes, 2008).

In spite of this substantive claim, it is appropriate for the researchers and relevant authorities to question the abysmal record of China concerning the human rights. For instance, there is the tendency of the ghoulish activity regarding extraction or harvesting of the organs from numerous people who undergo execution in the context of China (Moore & Brown, 2007; Jones & Whitaker, 2012). The exhibitions have been able to create ethical or moral disharmony among distinct entities, especially lawmakers, activists, and clergies seeking to argue about the unethical aspects of the exhibitions (Rolfes, 2008). China tends to execute about 1,000 people in its prisons because of the categorization of most criminal activities as capital crimes or offenses even the little crime such as tax evasion. This might be a serious problem, but few people believe it to worth capital punishment.

Alternatively, ethical practitioners have been able to question the approach and presence of the surgeons in ambulances, particularly outside the execution chamber aiming at the removal or extraction of the valuable human body parts or organs. These activities tend to occur in the absence of consent of the prisoner, as well as their families or friends. Based on the elements of the case study, the Premier continues to deny that the human cadavers in the exhibitions emanate from the Chinese prison system (Rolfes, 2008). Nonetheless, there seems to be zero effort to deny the growing concern of these bodies being unclaimed cadavers of the marginalized people of the society. It is appropriate to perceive deafening outcry of concern if the bodies or human remains in the exhibitions were American homeless individuals. This exposes our double standards in which exhibitions focus on exportation of dead bodies while protecting the human rights of the Americans such as the homeless. From this perspective, these exhibitions tend to document powerful ethical questions or issues on the essence of plastination.

There seems to be more concern other than the legal or illegal donation of the bodies for the medical or educational purposes. This relates to the ethics of displaying the human bodies or remains. For instance, practitioners believe that exhibitions might be valuable for the medical students or individuals. On the other hand, it is inappropriate for such human cadavers to be the focus view for children, particularly as a platform for entertainment. Children might conceptualize detrimental and daunting aspects of such images in their minds, thus, limiting their abilities to have harmonious sleeps. The cadavers tend to appear as objects or things rather than human beings. From one perspective, once dead, the bodies become physical objects. One of the fascinating aspects of the exhibition is that it forces us to consider the existing dualism concerning the physical body vs. person. This highlights the diversity in perceptions concerning the issues. At one point, some practitioners believe on the positive aspects of the exhibitions based on the medical and educational merits. Alternatively, other entities or practitioners believe on the immoral or unethical nature of the practice.

On the positive aspect, there are displays of two lungs: healthy and stained lungs documenting the implications of smoking. Similarly, the cadavers display or present cancer dramatically through the integration of the diseased ovaries, testicles, and breasts in the presence of health warnings and urge for early screening to detect, as well as prevent the subsequent spread of the illness. It is an obligation of the parents to make the decisions whether the exhibitions provide the perfect or valid educational experience for the young people. Moreover, it is ideal to have in mind that the mortal remains on the displays were once living and vital human beings possessing the immortal souls. One of the most disturbing elements of the Bodies: The Exhibition is the fetus room. Losing composure upon visitation to this room is possible. Upon entering this room, one has the tendency to experience or encounter deformed fetus or underdeveloped human beings, which require substantive hope among the audiences. The subjection of the fetus to adverse conditions in the exhibition highlights the ethical attribute of the objective of the designers.

Ethically, it is appropriate to consider treating the bodies or human remains with charity, as well as respect to honor their lives. This is because the bodies might belong to our sisters, brothers, fathers, and other relatives, as well as friends. From the above discussion, it is appropriate for the designers of the exhibitions to make different moral and ethical considerations. In the first instance, there is need to determine the source or origin of the body. In this context, determination of the legal or legitimate acquisition of the bodies or human remains should be the major concern. For instance, in the case of the Body Worlds, the inventor of the concept of Plastination, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, highlights that the human remains in the exhibitions, especially in the context of North American emanate from the informed donors in Europe and America. These donors had the opportunity to offer the ethical permission for the use of their bodies for the medical and educational purposes.

On the other hand, the science museums hosting such exhibitions have the tendency to make the assurance regarding the legal and legitimate acquisition of the bodies or human remains in their premises (Mehta, 2007; Ulaby, 2006). Similarly, it is appropriate for the exhibitors to avoid using or integrating unclaimed bodies, prisoners, and human remains from the mental institutions in the public exhibitions. Moreover, it is inappropriate to engage in exhibiting bodies of the prisoners or homeless people, as well as indigent patients from the medical centers. In the case of Bodies: The Exhibition, Body World’s competitor, it is ideal to highlight that all the human cadavers did come from China. Nonetheless, it is uncertain that the human remains or cadavers did come from the willing and informed donors. Based on these ethical or moral issues, various museums and entities will not engage in displaying Bodies: The Exhibition. Various human rights entities have been able to highlight the fact that these bodies might be outputs of the human rights abuse in the context of China.

Conclusively, there is a need for the ethical documentation of the processes and consent or permission of the individuals offering or donating their bodies or organs for the medical reasons and educational purposes. In this aspect, it is ideal to ensure that none of the cadavers emanates from the criminal institutions or the mental health institutions. It is obligate for the exhibitors to account for each body under exhibition for the moral purposes. In the case of Bodies: the Exhibition, the exhibitor focuses on the utilization of documentation from the nation, China, with problematic issues concerning the human rights. The concept relates to the failure of the exhibitor to highlight the regular donation by the people for their bodies to be applicable for the medical and educational purposes. In spite of these concerns, such exhibitions continue to attract record-breaking attendances, thus, the need to ascertain the legality or legitimacy of the origins of the cadavers in the exhibitions.








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Rolfes, J, (2008), “Bodies’ exhibit sparks moral debate,” OSV Newsweekly,

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Bodies: The Exhibition


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