Professor Anita Allen, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, argues that spending money to “gawk” at human remains should raise serious concerns. Thomas Hibbs, Baylor University ethicist, compares cadaver displays to pornography in that they reduce the subject to “the manipulation of body parts stripped of any larger human significance.”
Bullshit. Not at the exhibit that we went to in Galveston this weekend.
Bodies was educational and thought provoking. I don’t dictate ethics for the world, but I saw no cause for the professors’ alarm. The exhibit is arranged to take the viewer through a series of rooms, starting with the skeletal system and adding on further layers as the rooms progress. In total, the visitor encounters about 20 bodies, and the displays are designed and arranged to encourage examination and quiet thought.
When I first entered Bodies I found it difficult to internalize that the exhibits were of real, dead humans. Many of them were mounted on stands, not secured behind a locked lucite case. As I walked through the rooms I found myself thinking:
- The exhibit is both dehumanizing and humanizing. In front of you are component parts. Widgets. Everything that we are made of is right there. At the same time, there’s a strong “So that’s what I’m made of” feeling. That’s me.
- The vascular system is stunningly beautiful, particularly as preserved with dyed liquid “filler” and the suspended capillary system resembled a delicate aquatic plant to Ayo. Conversely, most of the internal organs were pretty dull looking – dare I say ugly.
- Our internal organs are small. Much smaller than I had imagined.
- I have added respect for skilled surgeons. The exhibit presented diseased organs, and I frequently couldn’t tell the difference – even when the anomalies were clearly labeled.
- Finally, it’s marvelous that each of those organs – each a small blob - does something. That tube thing? It absorbs B12! Those other mushballs? They filter your blood. Wow.
Ayo, adding onto Yair’s comments:
- During the exhibit I concurrently felt awe and a matching up of the exhibit to myself – “So that’s where my stomach is located.”
- Human gluteal (butt) muscles look exactly like chulent meat.
- Bodies was more meaningful after I had left, when I noticed feeling a much stronger connection to my body.
Professor Allen, Bodies encourages thoughtful introspection, not ‘gawking’. Professor Hibbs, there is larger human significance. To some degree – large or small - Bodies has an effect on the humanity of every homo sapiens that visits.
posted by yair