Bodies Revealed

Moody Gardens, Galveston, Texas

This past Saturday my daughter’s school choir performed on the steps of Moody Gardens in Galveston. Moody Gardens is part amusement park, part museum, part nature conservatory. Its attractions include a rainforest pyramid, an aquarium and a paddleboat ride in Galveston Bay.

After the concert, we were free to visit the exhibits. One of particular interest to me–albeit not of much interest to the 4 girls I was with–was a temporary exhibit called Bodies Revealed:

FASCINATING + REAL. BODIES REVEALED is a must-see during its limited engagement on Galveston Island. This striking Exhibition showcases real human bodies, dissected and preserved through a revolutionary process which allows visitors to see themselves in a fascinating way, like never before. BODIES REVEALED will enlighten, empower, fascinate and inspire.

BODIES REVEALED, made possible through the process of Polymer Preservation, is an attempt to remedy that lack of knowledge by presenting to the lay public material that was previously only available to the medical profession: a three-dimensional tour of the human body. The specimens have been dissected to specifically illustrate each body system and function. Male and female reproductive organs are visible in some of the full body specimens.

Countless visitors have remarked that the knowledge gained from the experience has provided them with a new connection to their own bodies. Others claim a new reverence for life and a desire to take a more preventative approach to their health care. To quote writer and philosopher John Conger whose words are displayed in the Exhibition, “Without the body, the wisdom of the larger self cannot be known.”

image from the galvestondailynews.com

I should have been fascinated–and to the extent that the exhibits revealed the complexities of the human body and how they systems worked I was fascinated. But I also came away from that exhibit with a feeling which was unexpected: unease.

Photography of any kind was strictly prohibited. You weren’t even allowed to bring your phone into the exhibit if it had a camera. But even if photos were allowed, I don’t think I would have taken any. Even the act of viewing these bodies–as educational as it was–seemed to be a violation of their privacy. These were, after all, living human beings at one time. Someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, significant other. And while I pass no judgement on those who see this exhibit for what it is intended to be: an educational, enlightening experience, I simply can’t get past my personal unease at viewing what was once a living, breathing human being.

I think it’s an important exhibition. An educational one which helps to explain the mystery of the human machine.

But as for me, I just as soon let some things remain mysterious.

What do you think? Would you be comfortable with allowing your body to be displayed after your death? What about a loved one?

Update: Prompted by Glynn Young’s comment, I did a little online research. I was disturbed to find that indeed the bodies are from China, and that the promoters of this exhibit and others like it cannot with certainty independently confirm that all the bodies were donated to science with the consent of the decedents or their families.

From a NY Times article:

“Inside a series of unmarked buildings, hundreds of Chinese workers, some seated in assembly line formations, are cleaning, cutting, dissecting, preserving and re-engineering human corpses, preparing them for the international museum exhibition market.

“Pull the cover off; pull it off,” one Chinese manager says as a team of workers begin to lift a blanket from the head of a cadaver stored in a stainless steel container filled with formalin, a chemical preservative. “Let’s see the face; show the face.”

The mastermind behind this operation is Gunther von Hagens, a 61-year-old German scientist whose show, “Body Worlds,” has attracted 20 million people worldwide over the past decade and has taken in over $200 million by displaying preserved, skinless human corpses with their well-defined muscles and sinewy tissues.

But now with millions of people flocking to see “Body Worlds” and similar exhibitions, a ghastly new underground mini-industry has emerged in China.

With little government oversight, an abundance of cheap medical school labor and easy access to cadavers and organs — which appear to come mostly from China and Europe — at least 10 other Chinese body factories have opened in the last few years. These companies are regularly filling exhibition orders, shipping preserved cadavers to Japan, South Korea and the United States.”

Personally, I regret viewing this exhibit because by doing so, I’ve contributed to a ghastly industry.

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15 Responses to “Bodies Revealed”

  1. Annie McMahon March 26, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    My daughter’s high school class is going on a field trip to see this exhibit. We had a big debate in our house about whether she should go or not. My thoughts? This exhibit is not educational, more like a freak show. Where do these bodies come from? And how would I feel if the people displayed were my relatives? Pretty upsetting. I don’t even know what to say.

  2. Simply Darlene March 26, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Oh gag.

    I had an anatomy class in college with cadavers and other things. I puked during my first few labs. And don’t ever, ever go to anat lab with wet hair because the stink clings.

    What was your question?

    I’ve gotta go poke out my mind’s eye now.

  3. Sally Thompson March 26, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    I think it is hard one. Unfortunately we can’t feel a thing after death, so it isn’t important to us to be shown or not to be. But if i could feel and know that everyone is staring at me, i think i wouldn’t be very happy. As for the loved ones, not if i am alive.

  4. James Williams March 26, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    A similar exhibit came through the DFW area some time back. I avoided it for the same reasons you describe. I’m with you on this one.

  5. Amy Nabors March 26, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I wouldn’t be I don’t think. Donating to science maybe but not to be on display like that.

  6. Glynn March 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    There’s an additional issue. When the exhibit was in St. Louis (at the largest shopping mall in the city) (which we declined to visit while the exhibit was there), there was some controversy about where the bodies had come from, including a story that some had been political prisoners in China. I don’t know if the story was true or not, but given the state of the Chinese government, it easily could be true.

    • katdish March 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      Oh, wow Glynn. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do remember thinking that all of the cadavers on display did look Asian, their eyes almond shaped. That makes my unease with the exhibit even greater.

  7. Jason Stasyszen March 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    It is a little disturbing. I think it would be interesting, especially in the understanding of us as the Church being Christ’s body, but still. That quote you mentioned, “Without the body, the wisdom of the larger self cannot be known” is a really good thought.

  8. Marni March 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    That exhibit came through Dallas. Peyton was afraid she’d see naked people and that would be embarrassing…to her and to the dead naked people. She overthinks things. She gets that from her dad because I am just so carefree and never worry.

    What was I saying?

    Oh yeah, we saw the exhibit. It freaked me out a bit, like I was violating their privacy. We left early and went to PurpleBerri where I went right back to being carefree and never worrying.

  9. Candy March 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Way back in college we had cadaver lab in anatomy. I psyched myself up to face the body, and was doing pretty good until we got to the hands. The lady had nail polish on. Everything I was supposed to learn became overshadowed by my thoughts of who put that on her? Was it her daughter? Who took her shopping to pick out the color? Was she pleased with it? What was she wearing? It all became too personal, and even though she had willingly donated her body (God rest her soul) I felt like I was invading her privacy. And a snarky medical student got the stink-eye and darned-near got a scalpel from me after making some snide comment about this poor dead woman who couldn’t defend herself.

    Nope, you wouldn’t catch me at that exhibit. Draw me a picture.

  10. Nick the Geek March 26, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Wow,

    You really should edit the original post with this info, had I just relied on the feed reader I wouldn’t have caught this follow up info. If I thought these were all donated for science I would be more open to the concept, but if there is a chance even one body is there against personal and family consent …

    You should know I don’t care much about my body after I die. That doesn’t matter. Cremation + t-shirt canon and we’re done, but if my wife/kids want something more permanent, a grave to visit … they deserve the right to do that. Some poor parent/spouse/child/sibling may have lost that right and this shouldn’t be supported in any way shape or form.

    • katdish March 27, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      I’ve updated it. Thanks, Nick.

  11. Annie K March 27, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    It’s interesting to me that the mastermind is a German doctor. Reading the description – it almost sounds a little Nazi’ist to me.

  12. Anja May 10, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this article on Bodies revealed. I liked reading it. Best wishes, Anja 🙂

  13. Linda August 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    It is a bit gross but it is educational though. How I wish I could be there with my son and niece. It is practical to see such exhibit for them to understand our body inside out.
    I love the way you convey such details. It seemed you guys had fun. The picture here is well taken. I was thinking you took the image. But as you’ve said, it gives you creeps. I will not be taking one either.
    Congrats on your daughter’s performance.
    🙂
    Linda

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