Here’s links to articles Carle and I did on this exhibt which opened at the Saskatchewan Science Centre on May 15. As we note, we saw the show as part of a media preview that the Centre arranged. Also invited was a biology class from Sheldon Williams Collegiate that had been studying human anatomy.
In the introduction to the show it’s made abundantly clear that morality, usually of a religious nature, has often interfered with and thwarted the human quest for knowledge. That’s the essential parable of Adam and Eve’s story in the Bible. But other cultures also have cautionary stories and myths about humanity overstepping its bounds and delving into things best left unexplored. Prometheus and Pandora are two examples from ancient Greek culture.
I don’t think knowledge, in and of itself, is ever evil. It’s more a matter of what we do with it once we acquire it that determines whether its a benefit or detriment to us and all other life on Earth. Dissections and autopsies are undoubtedly gruesome procedures, but without that type of rigorous investigation, where would the state of medicine be today?
The point Carle makes about all the subjects being Asian is a valid one. Other exhibits of this type that have been assembled haven’t been restricted to people of Asian ancestry. But it does evoke a certain amount of discomfort as in Western civilization there is a long history of scientists studying and categorizing other cultures. Implicit in this practice is the notion that Western society was more advanced and sophisticated and therefore fully justified in critiquing, measuring and analyzing other cultures.
At the same time we also have strong taboos associated with the handling and disposition of human remains. Part of this was surely driven by necessity, as if care isn’t taken in the disposal of human (and animal) remains the decomposition process that occurs is a dangerous vector for disease. But funeral rituals are also indicative of a desire on our part to properly honour and mourn the dead.
No matter how disappasionate we try to be, when a person is charged under the Criminal Code with committing an indignity against human remains, as a Weyburn woman was recently after disposing of her dead baby by placing it in the garbage, and two Regina boys were last year after they set a friend’s body on fire after he’d been killed accidently, we definitely experience feelings of revulsion. On the other hand, many of us have few qualms about committing indignities against other living beings as we go about our daily lives.
In my mind, that’s a far worse sin than anything in this exhibit where the preserved bodies, limbs and organs are treated with dignity and respect..