Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Body By Any Other Name

Pictured above is a Lamar Advertising sign which may not be a sign, advertising “real human bodies” which may not be real human bodies. (There is starting to be a certain cosmic symmetry to all of this, now isn’t there?)

The Bodies being advertised and displayed are those of deceased Chinese persons who may or may not have been executed prisoners, may or may not have been “unclaimed”, may or may not have given permission to be part of the titillating, traveling exhibit.

Yesterday afternoon, KDKA radio personality Chris Moore spoke to Dr. Todd Olson, chair of the Anatomical Committee of the Associated Medical Schools of New York. Dr. Olson is squarely in the camp of those who think the exhibits should be shut down.

“In our view, [the Bodies exhibits] are here illegally,” Olson charged.

Putting aside moral and ethical considerations for the moment, Olson explained that there are practical and legal reasons the exhibits should not be here.

“They are brought into this country under false pretenses. Their customs declaration says they are plastic models, not human bodies. If they had been listed as preserved human remains, they would have had to have been accompanied by proper documentation. Documentation we require for any body for burial. They do not have that documentation.”

Dr. Olson continued that since these bodies are not classified as “real human bodies” for customs, they do not come under the jurisdiction of our health department. “This is why there are laws regarding bodies. The law tells us who may have a dead body and who may not. It tells us where bodies can be displayed and where such a display would be improper or pose a health risk.”

Olson was referring to the growing number of patently exploitative, obviously-not-educational locations where the Bodies are put on view: *At the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas where you can gawk at dead bodies at one end of the hotel and then catch live burlesque bodies at the other end. *At Union Station where you can shop, eat at a restaurant and then take in a dead body or two after dessert.

“That is the loophole they are exploiting.”

Now once the bodies get past customs, their status changes dramatically. Suddenly, to the likes of the Carnegie Science Center and other purveyors of art and science, they become “Real Human Bodies” because the general public is not going to plunk down $20 - $40 just to gape at “Real Plastic Models.”

What can we do? What should we do?

“Call your congressman,” says Olson. “Call your local health department. These [bodies] are individuals in the prime of their lives. This is not Grampa Charlie. This is not the type of body any anatomist ever sees in the U.S. This is suspicious.”

How does KDKA host Chris Moore feel about the Bodies? Chris, who is a Vietnam vet and who has seen more than his fair share of dead bodies in his lifetime?

“These people are Chinese,” said Moore. “I wonder …. If in Iraq, one of our soldiers had been killed, and then preserved, and then posed kicking a softball … How would we feel about that? Wouldn’t we feel horrified and outraged?”

Ms. Pist is not Chinese. Ms. Pist is not Iraqi. But Ms. Pist is pist and horrified and outraged nonetheless.

Call your health department. Call your congressman. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Michael Fleck is trying to return some sanity if not some ethics to our state. We all need to do whatever we can to stop this horror.