Over My Dead Body

My daughter and I each took a deep breath yesterday evening and ventured into BODIES, the controversial exhibition which is currently showcasing in Dublin. Real human bodies are on display, all of which have been dissected to feature every organ in the body. The specimens have been preserved permanently by a process called ‘polymer preservation’ so that they will not decay. This exhibition is highly educational but it’s also raises something of an ethical dilemma.

bodiesThe origins of the bodies used in this exhibition continue to create controversy, prompting an allegation, denied by the exhibitors, that some of the bodies are those of executed Chinese prisoners.The exhibitors claim that all the people whose bodies are being exhibited, died of natural causes. The ethical dilemma raised here is the fact that the exhibitors are profiting from displaying the remains of individuals who have not consented to their remains being used in this manner.

A sign on entry to the exhibition states that “the specimens  have been treated with the dignity and respect they so richly deserve.” I’ve no problem admitting that I found the exhibition far more interesting than disturbing. Having once studied anatomy and physiology using bodies donated for research, I loved having another opportunity to look inside the body and marvel at it’s sophistication. Our bodies are amazing things really when you consider how they function without us even thinking about it. My daughter has just completed a college semester in the dissecting room and she felt the exhibits helped her to put her recent learning into context. One curtained off part of the exhibition contains foetal and embryonic specimens but visitors are given the option to skip this section due to the sensitive nature of it’s display. A sign outside states that “all specimens perished in utero from complications during pregnancy.” While sad to look at, my daughter and I marvelled at  the various stages of development in utero and we were able to relate what we saw to my own experiences of pregnancy loss. This is not for everyone but it does form a useful learning experience and if nothing else, it makes you stop and think about how precious life is.

We left the exhibition feeling that we’d witnessed something very special. Some might argue that this exhibition teaches that there is nothing wrong with exploiting the dead in order to make a profit, as long as it is in the name of science or education or art. I believe that it offers a unique insight into the wonders of the human body and allows access to sights and knowledge normally reserved only for medical professionals. By understanding how the body works, you are in a better position care for your own body and keep it healthy. Having said all that, I’m happy to keep my body to myself.

Another article on the exhibition can be found here in the Irish Times.

5 Responses to Over My Dead Body

  1. Grannymar says:

    Dealing with blood, guts and innards has never been a problem to me.

    As you say Steph, seeing the internal jigsaw from which we are made; helps us understand more how our body functions.

  2. Baino says:

    We saw this a couple of years ago and it’s fascinating if not a little macabre. So where do the profits go? I’d hope that some might be given to medical research. Then again, the alternative methods of disposal do nothing for anyone I guess. Might as well be polymered for posterity.

  3. Steph says:

    GM – At times I had to pinch myself to believe that what I was looking at was real. The method of preservation is incredibly effective.

    The section on circulation was what caught my attention the most. The blood vessels had been prepared using a technique known as ‘corrosion casting’ where the blood system was injected with a coloured polymer, which then hardened. The arterial system was outlined in red and the venous in blue, clearly showing the blood supply around the body. Did you realise that you have 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your body?

    Baino – The only problem I had with this educational exhibition was the excessive charge (€20 adult/€16 student/OAP). Granted the overheads must be huge but if it’s purpose is to educate rather than entertain, then it should be accessible to all.

  4. Mona says:

    I saw the exibition about 2 months ago, and I must say I was a bit disappointed myself. It was not as big as the price told me, and since I had just finished an anatomy course, I did not learn a single thing in there. I had the company of two guys, who would be considered to have common knowledge about the subject. They of course learned a lot and was fascinated, but i wish they had something for all of us – even the ones that have more than common knowledge before going in there. That being said, I still found it entertaining. Stuff like that does not affect me at all, so seeing it from yet another different angle is quite nice. It raises some questions that i think we should all think about regularly.

  5. Steph says:

    Mona – Hello and welcome!

    I agree with you about the size of the exhibition. When we got to the end of it, there was a definite sense of “is that it?”. The heavy admission fee will deter a lot of people from going which is a great pity as it’s such a unique opportunity to see the human body like never before.

    I just wish that I’d seen this exhibition before I did my time in the dissecting rooms because I know that it would have given me a greater appreciation of what I was learning. I thought it was amazing to see the circulatory system in 3D like that. All those boring pictures in my anatomy books all those years ago, suddenly came alive!

    Here’s a link to an excellent review of the Dublin exhibition…

    http://darraghdoyle.blogspot.com/2009/01/bodies-exhibition-in-dublin-id-go-again.html

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