Exhibition of dissected bodies not for the squeamish


THEY WERE abandoned in death, and are now subject to the kind of attention they never received in their lives.  According to its promoters, 11 million people have seen Bodies – the Exhibitionwhich opens on Saturday at the Ambassador Theatre in Dublin.

The bodies, which have been dissected and placed on display, are those of Chinese people who died without being claimed by any next-of-kin. It has been the practice for centuries to offer such bodies for medical research but, instead, they have been maintained using a process of polymer preservation and exhibited around the world.

The results have attracted acclaim and criticism in equal measure. Along with full bodies, some dissected like pieces of salami, every organ in the body is featured.

The exhibition is not for the squeamish, nor for smokers. Blackened lungs feature prominently and the organisers have not baulked from showing diseased organs which they hope will be both educational and instructive to those who abuse their bodies. Each full body takes 1½ years to dissect.

Chief medical director for the exhibition Dr Roy Glover, a former professor of anatomy, said one exhibit which shows the muscle structure of a body demonstrated the skill and patience involved. “What they had to do is remove the skeleton from inside and yet maintain the muscular envelope that is around it. That’s complicated. I dissected bodies for 35 years and I couldn’t even begin to do it.”

The bodies were donated by the Dalian Medical University to the Dalian Plastination facility in China. The origins of the bodies have created controversy, prompting an allegation, denied by the exhibitors, that some of the bodies are those of executed Chinese prisoners.

Last summer, Bodiespromoter Premier Exhibition, an Atlanta-based company, was forced to give an undertaking to the New York state attorney general Andrew Cuomo that it would obtain documentation demonstrating the source of each body and body part, indicating the cause of death, and presenting that person’s consent to the use of his or her body after their death.

Dr Glover said the exhibitors had practised due diligence and Dr Hong-Jin Sui, the anatomist at the plastination factory who obtained them, had signed affidavits that all the people whose bodies are being exhibited died of natural causes.

Dr Glover said it was common practice in medical schools that corpses not claimed are donated for education and research purposes. “We see that as a life-giving gift that is able to be used to support and provide better education,” he said.

The exhibition (www.bodiestheexhibition.com) will run for at least three months and the organisers intend to write to every Irish school inviting them to use it as an educational tool.