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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