BODIES Mar-3-2008 (860 words) With file photo posted July 7, 2006. xxxn
Bishops say show exploits, degrades those whose bodies are on display
By Jack Smith
Catholic News Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CNS) -- Two Catholic prelates said they regard the exhibit "Bodies Revealed" that opened Feb. 29 in Kansas City as "an unfortunate exploitation of that which is 'real' to teach something that could be accomplished by use of models."
"As such it represents a kind of 'human taxidermy' that degrades the actual people who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed and died," said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
"For these reasons, we do not believe that this exhibit is an appropriate destination for field trips by our Catholic schools," they added.
The exhibit features an array of human bodies in various poses, all preserved through a process of polymer preservation. Various preserved organs are also in the exhibit, which will be at Kansas City's Union Station through Sept. 1.
The bishops explained that "Catholic moral teaching regards the human person as a unity of soul and body, spirit and matter -- beings capable of freedom and love in communion with other persons and with God."
"As such, the body is more than just a vessel for the soul. The church's concern for human dignity extends to the body even after the soul is no longer present," they said.
The two church leaders said that "the bodies of the dead deserve respect and charity, preserving the God-given dignity of the human person."
They acknowledged the church "does allow for -- and in some cases commends -- the conscientious free choice of persons to 'donate' their bodies for legitimate scientific research and educational purposes. In these instances, the deceased body and its parts deserve respectful interment."
Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions is the organizer of the Kansas City show; it also produces a show titled "Bodies: The Exhibition," which just opened at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Both shows, say their promoter, are aimed at educating people about the human body and how to take better care of their health.
A competing show called "Body Worlds" also has been on tour in the United States and other countries. It was put together by Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist who invented a plastination process for preserving bodies.
Questions have been raised about the source of some of the cadavers, namely for "Bodies: The Exhibition," considered to have the higher profile of Premier's two shows.
On Feb. 15, following a three-month investigation, ABC's "20/20" aired a story about the Chinese sources of the specimens. Human rights groups have alleged some of them are executed prisoners.
In a statement about the Kansas City exhibit released before the "20/20" show, Union Station's president and CEO, Andi Udris, acknowledged the exhibit would raise questions. But he said Premier Exhibitions "assured us that the all of the bodies and organ specimens on display in 'Bodies Revealed' were procured from individuals who willingly and knowingly chose to donate their bodies to science."
"Those individuals made their anatomical gifts to accredited medical universities in the People's Republic of China, and all specimens were then received by the Nanjing Suyi Plastination Laboratories in Nanjing, China," Udris said.
However, "Premier Exhibitions has never made (it a) secret that specimens used in 'Bodies: The Exhibition' may be unclaimed or unidentified specimens," Udris added.
Reporter Brian Ross found that contrary to Premier's earlier assertions that specimens for its "Bodies: The Exhibition" show were procured from Dalian Medical University, they had in fact come from Dr. Hong Jin Sui's Dalian Medical University Plastination Co., a for-profit, private company 30 miles from Dalian Medical University.
"20/20" visited the facility and found technicians working on the bodies of both animals and humans. When reporter Ross asked the company manager where the bodies come from and whether they were executed, the manager said he didn't know.
The show also found that Premier Exhibitions avoids laws pertaining to shipping human remains by labeling them "plastic models" on shipping documents.
Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has played a key role in promoting human rights reforms in China and elsewhere, told ABC the collection of "unclaimed" bodies in China for plastination shows "has every mark of executions and abuse."
In an interview with The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Smith's spokesman, Ryan Goodwin, said the congressman is preparing a number of responses, including asking the House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on the issue. Smith is a member of the committee.
Smith also is drafting legislation to require independent certification that specimens in "Bodies" shows come from donors who have given consent.
In California, Democratic Assemblywoman Fiona Ma from San Francisco is sponsoring legislation in California demanding documentation of consent from donors before "Bodies" exhibitions can be shown in the state. Similar legislation is being considered in Washington and Pennsylvania.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has launched his own investigation of Premier Exhibitions to determine the methods used to obtain the bodies exhibited in the United States. Premier says it will cooperate with the investigation.
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