Pick of the Day: Our Body: The Universe Within

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..

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your puny human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

2 thoughts on “Pick of the Day: Our Body: The Universe Within”

  1. I’ve been wondering about where they get the bodies for these exhibitions.

    I know that there was a lot of press surrounding the Body Worlds exhibition developed by anatomist Gunther Von Hagen, who invented the plastination process used on the bodies.

    Apparently Von Hagen went to great lengths to ensure that bodies for the exhibitions were acquired by ethical means– which I guess means that the people knew that they were donating their bodies for purposes of exhibition.

    But similar exhibitions not affiliated with Body Worlds or Von Hagen allegedly get their corpses through means that are less well-documented. I.e.: ‘unclaimed cadavers’ donated by Chinese authorities.

    I’d be curious to know from where this exhibition gets their corpses. It seems shady that they are all asian.

    Just Wikipedia, but still worth wondering:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_worlds#Controversies

  2. Just a note about where, geographically, the bodies came from. The exhibit was originally developed by the Anatomical Sciences & Technologies Foundation in Hong Kong (I had originally thought that it was from the University of Hong Kong but I was mistaken – this information is on the Our Body website). The bodies would have come from the surrounding area. Also on their website is the claim that all the bodies used were donated knowingly to science and education. Take that with more or less salt than the “Competitors” heading on the Body World’s Wikipedia article.

    As far as Body Worlds is concerned, Von Hagen used to make a big deal about how many people have donated their bodies directly to the Body Worlds company for display. Forms for donation are (or were, I’m not sure that this is still the case) provided anytime it is displayed. I would have to double check the numbers but by 2003, over 4000 people had signed their bodies to the company.

    If you’re so inclined, Mary Roach has done some interesting writing on the subject.

    Ultimately, when one donates their body to science or education, there are a huge range of places where the remains may end up (like at the University of Tennessee decomposing out in the sun, ew) much of it has to do with proximity to a university doing research of one kind or another.

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