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« The Prez and The Pretender | Main | Painting by the Numbers (Dean) »

November 28, 2007


The plastination of the cadavers was done in China? Is it known if the Chinese government was paid for the exhibitions?

I have the same attitude towards the dead body as you - the effect of a culture which considers the lifeless body as valuable as a discarded piece of clothing. The Hindu practice of cremation and the Parsee custom of laying out dead bodies on Towers of Silence do make one less sentimental about the lifeless human form. But unsentimentality does not mean disrespect and lack of ethics. As you said, respect for the dead body is not so much meant for the dead but a consideration for the living who mourn them.

Any thing that China is involved in, raises ethical concerns. The bodies are supposed to have been "unclaimed" cadavers. Who knows how much pressure may have been put on families to not "claim" them?

Researchers at the University of Hiroshima have developed transparent frogs which may make dissection of live frogs in biology labs obsolete. May be we should strive for the same for the sake of medicine? Or will that be too much like see-through sewer pipes?

All that I can find is a couple of references in various articles saying that the Chinese government supplied the cadavers from 'unclaimed' bodies. It's next to impossible to determine whether these are really 'unclaimed' or whether no efforts were made to notify the next-of-kin about these deaths. China also maintains a flourishing organs trade. Although some attempt has been made to regulate it, as per this article, abuses predominate their current system, with practically no 'informed consent' in the removal of organs.
India has her share of the organs trade, but the coercion factor is primarily economic, rather than 'donation' forced by the authorities.

I don't really have a great deal of sentimental attachment to bodies, either, and hope that mine someday, useful organs removed, will be cremated and disposed of as cheaply and conveniently as possible.

But isn't the relevant question, not just whether the bodies were fairly obtained, but how the Chinese whose bodies were taken feel about such things? As to that, I have no idea, not being terribly familiar with Chinese culture, but someone must.

All I know is, I wouldn't want people doing stuff with my body after I die. That's why I'm getting cremated. I don't believe in incorporeal souls, but at least emotionally I do believe that whatever a "person" is, it is coterminous with the body, such that a crime against a dead body feels like a crime against a dead person, rather than something done to a hunk of dead meat which was once inhabited by a person.

But intellectually, you know, it's just decaying meat that was taken. So I wonder if the relevant question isn't how the Chinese whose bodies were taken feel about such things-- they're dead, as far as they're concerned none of this is going on, they can't suffer dignitary harms-- but rather how the people who were connected to and survive them feel about it.


Regarding beliefs of the Chinese about death/dying/burials etc., I was able to find this link, which while providing insights into how they cope with death of family members as a culture, doesn't really shed any light on how the Chinese authorities were able to 'donate' the cadavers used in the exhibit. The Chinese culture has elaborate rituals and lot of 'showing respect' for the deceased ingrained in their funerary rites, along with offerings made to insure a happy after-life for the deceased soul. They are also generally against organ donation as taking away from the integrity of the dead body. The question arises as to 1. Were the Chinese authorities just taking bodies of executed prisoners who were really unclaimed? 2. Were the families even notified of the deaths? 3.Might the authorities may have deemed this exhibit as an extension of the punishment meted out in life, in a manner weirdly consistent with the Chinese cultural/religious attitude to death and funerals?
We have no answer to these, and are unlikely to find any answers in the near future.


You do want something done to your body after death, even if that 'something' is cremation, rather than being dissected and displayed. We at least have the luxury of choice in that matter, more than we can confirm for the Chinese whose bodies were used. They had no say in when they were to die, and once dead, no relatives who came forward/or were allowed to claim them.

Having once been a subject of curiosity for the rare case of full-blown varicella (chicken pox) in an adult, and been surrounded with medical students looking at my lesions, plus having a photograph of my back taken for 'instructional purposes', I know exactly what it feels like as a living human to be 'objectified' in a medical sense. I consented to it because I thought it would be for the greater good, even if I was personally uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy it entailed.


Whoah, you had chicken pox as an adult? That is exciting-- if rather horrible for you! The specter of adult chicken pox loomed large in my imagination as a child, since we were always told, with an almost mythological intensity, that if we didn't catch chicken pox young (I had it at 7), we ran the risk of terrible complications in contracting it as an adult. Glad you lived to tell the tale!


The chicken-pox that I had wasn't hugely severe, to me, though it had doctors scratching their heads over the diagnosis. I think I'll describe the whole comedy in an F-n-S post someday- it does seem quite funny in retrospect!

As someone in the funeral industry I found this exhibit to be fascinating, it really is an awesome display on the complicity of the human body

This is just normal pregnancy related. If you want to see a truly extraordinary pregnancy then go to

Loved the exhibit - very educational! Actually getting to see the inside of a human body, and look at the genetic makeup is amazing.


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