Archive for March 7th, 2013

The Morality of “Bodies Revealed”

March 7, 2013

Bodies Revealed is an educational exhibit that is traveling around the United States.   It is a unique display of human bodies in various stages of, I suppose you could say, dissection.  The bodies of people who had donated their remains to science have been disassembled to various degrees, preserved so that they will not decompose or smell, and then posed in various positions.  Some body organs are available for people to handle, so that we can literally hold another person’s heart in our hands.  It is claimed that it demonstrates the workings of the human body in a powerful and unique way.  The hope is that it will inspire a new generation of doctors, scientists, etc.

They are obeying the letter of the law.  The bodies were donated for educational purposes.  The end result may be positive in that it may result in people pursuing careers in the medical field.  It is possible that the driving forces behind the exhibit really do have motives that are more honorable than simply making money.

Even so, it just seems wrong to me.  I recognize that I am primarily relying on an intuition that other people may not share, and so there may not be many who agree that it is wrong.  It is not possible to argue from intuition, all we can really do is see how many other people share our opinion.  We can also challenge some of the claims that provide moral support for the exhibit.

I do not have a problem with the use of human bodies for medical education and research.  However, the  vast majority of people who will be viewing this exhibit will not be  pursuing anything other than a morbid curiosity to see real human bodies.

Yes, people donated their bodies to science, without many restrictions.  I wonder if they would have donated their bodies if they were made aware previously that they would basically become preserved and publicly displayed?  In some regards, they are the subjects of human taxidermy.

Although some will be inspired to pursue medical careers, will some merely have their imaginations further excited?  In a time when we regularly see human bodies in all states of decomposition regularly displayed on our television sets, are there some people who want to see the real thing?  Will this lead some down the right path of medical research?  Will it lead some down a more sinister path?  What will be the true lasting consequences of this morbid display of human remains?

The exhibit has done very well at the places where is has been on display.  I suspect that revenue is up.  That is not a bad thing, our museums do need to meet their operational budgets.  It does make me wonder whether the motivation behind the exhibit is indeed, public education, or does it simply come down to profitability?

Were the scientists/artists who put the exhibit together motivated by a desire to share knowledge, or were they more excited about working with a medium that was taboo throughout most of human history?

As I said earlier, this might all be a perfectly moral enterprise.  I do not know any of the people involved.  They might all be wonderful people, working from pure motives.

It just seems wrong to me.

What do you think?

 

 

 

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