BODIES: The Exhibition Spurs Controversy


By Francesco Turso

In mid June, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin wrote a letter to the owners of the Galleria condemning the St. Louis shopping mall for announcing they were hosting BODIES The Exhibition. In his letter to General Growth Properties he wrote: “You may not be aware, but this exhibit has faced serious ethical and human rights questions regarding the source of the human bodies on display. In particular ABC’s 20/20 revealed in 2008 that some of the bodies were obtained in China and may have included executed prisoners.”

After months of discussion the Galleria announced they would be posting a disclaimer while running the exhibit. The disclaimer reads: “Premier cannot independently verify the complete provenance of the human remains in this exhibition. They were obtained from a plastination facility in China, which received them from medical and research universities in China. These universities received the remains from medical examiner authorities in the Chinese Bureau of Police. The specimens are unclaimed by next of kin and there is no written documentation that any of the persons consented to the plastination and/or exhibition of their bodies.”

Plastination is a technique used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts. Invented by Gunther von Hagens in 1977, water and fat are replaced by plastics, essentially mummifying the body and organs.

There are still many people that refuse to visit the exhibit. Dr. Robert Kokenyesi, associate professor of Biology at Lewis and Clark Community College, is one of these individuals. When asked how he feels about the BODIES exhibit he replies: “I think the idea is good. I have seen the Body Works exhibit and it is terrific. It is very educational and it give a person the chance to see the human body and its organs like never before. It [BODIES exhibit] is very close to my house, but I won’t go see it.”

Dr. Kokenyesi immigrated from Hungary while under Communist rule. He understands how the people are treated under Communist rule, “ Some of the bodies in the exhibit have missing pieces of flesh. With no clear documentation given, how do we know they weren’t trying to hide an injury inflicted while imprisoned. It just seems a bit suspect to me. I have spent two decades in biomedical research where we had to be compliant with ethical standards. We always had documentation for everything, this [exhibit] just seems suspect to me.”

With many people refusing to visit the BODIES exhibit, it seems the controversy will continue. Those who decide to attend will see “over 200 actual human bodies and specimens, meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed,” as posted on the exhibit website.