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Florida Museumgoers Line Up to See Corpses
Calvin Knight/The Ledger
A preserved corpse posed as a soccer player is on view as part of "Bodies: The Exhibition" at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Fla.
By ABBY WEINGARTEN,
New York Times Regional Newspapers
Published: August 20, 2005
TAMPA, Fla., Aug. 19 - There are skinless cadavers sliced in two, tarred human lungs in glass cases, dehydrated brains you can touch. One corpse is posed as a soccer player, balancing on one foot and exposing the complex connection of bones, tendons and muscles.
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Forum: Artists and Exhibitions
Calvin Knight/The Ledger
Susan Dooley viewing a corpse at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Fla.
Shrugging off recommendations from a state medical board and the Florida attorney general, this city's Museum of Science and Industry opened this educational exhibition of human corpses and body parts on Thursday, two days earlier than planned. By the second day, the show, "Bodies: The Exhibition," had drawn about 3,600 visitors.
"Our main reason for opening early was that we've been inundated with calls and e-mails," said Candace Street, a museum spokeswoman. But given the opposition of state officials, it was clear that the museum wanted to admit as many visitors as quickly as possible - ticket price, $19.95 - in case Florida authorities moved to close the exhibition.
The intense interest in the show can be partly credited to a controversy over the origins of the specimens. The cadavers on display are those of 20 mostly middle-aged Chinese women and men; 260 other body parts are also among the exhibits.
Citing a lack of documentation proving that family members identified the corpses and allowed their transfer, Florida's Anatomical Board, which oversees the bodies sent to state medical schools, voted 4 to 2 on Wednesday against granting its approval for the traveling exhibition organized by Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta.
State Attorney General Charlie Crist immediately said the museum should abide by the ruling, although his office made clear that it had no authority to enforce the board's decision. The Anatomical Board said Thursday afternoon that it would seek clarification of the law from state lawmakers, but not legal action. Officials at Premier, which has invested more than $25 million in the show, said that the board had no jurisdiction and that they would take the issue to court if necessary.
Premier officials said the corpses and body parts were obtained from and are owned by the Dalian Medical University in China. The university obtained rights to exhibit the unidentified bodies after placing advertisements in three newspapers over a month seeking their identification. "They were obtained by the medical school in China legally, and there is documentation for that; there is just not signed consent," said Dr. Roy Glover, Premier's chief medical adviser for the show.
Premier's assurances do not eliminate the concerns of Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
"In some poor undeveloped countries the bodies consent practices haven't been outstanding," Dr. Caplan said. "China hasn't had the greatest track record. I'm a little suspicious about that source."
This is not the first time such a museum exhibition has been mounted in the United States. A similar one that has been traveling the globe since 1996, "Body Worlds," has generated controversy as well. Dr. Caplan was on an ethical board reviewing "Body Worlds" for a forthcoming exhibition in Philadelphia and said consent was also reviewed for that exhibition. The promoter showed that the bodies were legally obtained from Europe. But the larger concerns were about how the bodies would be displayed and the extent of profits. "Body Worlds" allayed the board's fear by agreeing to put some money back into education.
(After the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that some of the "Body Worlds" corpses were Chinese execution victims, the show's creator, Gunther von Hagens, said he had sought to avoid accepting such cadavers. "My orders have always been clear: no one who was sentenced to death," he was quoted as saying last year.)
"Body Worlds" is currently at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, through Sept. 5; a second version, "Body Worlds 2," is at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland through Sept. 18.
These shows feature human corpses, organs, glands, tendons and arteries preserved by the injection of silicon rubber or other synthetic material after the removal of fluids.
In Tampa, visitors can study how each body part functions, and how illnesses and behaviors like smoking affect specific organs. The exhibition also features a gallery of dead fetuses in which visitors can view development from one to nine months.
Placards explain each exhibit, trained docents answer questions and visitors can pay an extra $5 for adult and youth audio tours.
People filing out of the museum on Thursday and Friday seemed generally impressed. "It's a phenomenal journey," said Anna Burford, a registered nurse from St. Petersburg who said she had spent four hours following the audio tour. "I filled up with tears on more than one occasion."
But Will Hyland of New Port Richie had mixed feelings. "It was interesting, but I think you have to consider the human side of it too," he said. "I came out wondering why they did a lot of the things they did, like the 'fetus gallery.' To me, it was kind of weird."
Ryan Bradley, 10, of Tampa, said he enjoyed most of the show but was "grossed out" by certain parts.
The show, which cost the museum $1.6 million to mount, continues through Feb. 26. More than 1,000 tickets for the 14,000-square-foot spectacle were sold before opening day, and the museum's president, Wit Ostrenko, said he was hoping that as many as 200,000 people would attend.
After the polymer preservation process, Premier Exhibitions said, Chinese dissectors wrapped the dry, odorless corpses in shipping containers, which all passed through United States customs.
Premier said it had specifically asked for certain body types showing varying degrees of fitness. The company also said it had requested the bodies of smokers and people who had suffered prostate cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, atherosclerosis and breast cancer - diseases for which patients can be screened in regular checkups.
After their display, the bodies will be given to medical schools or returned to the university in China and cremated, Dr. Glover said.
Lynn Waddell contributed reporting for this article.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
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Posted by pam peters at 4:07 PM