Bodies On Display?

Not so long ago, Matt Graham and I were discussing the Body Worlds exhibit in Houston. For two years, this exhibit has toured the country featuring real human bodies that have been preserved with a process called plastination. I was trying to explain to Matt that I was not comfortable with the exhibit and had no desire to see it, but I couldn’t explain why. Recently, we listened to a report on NPR looking into Body Worlds and BODIES… The Exhibition, and it further solidified my feelings.

First, let me state that I think that the human body is a miracle and shows our Creator’s creativity, handiwork and precision. That my body was able to grow a child and birth it while I did almost nothing to aid it along is truly miraculous. I took anatomy and physiology in college and was awed by the intricacy of the systems and how each works together.

The bodies in BODIES… The Exhibition are unclaimed bodies obtained in China. In a country with a human rights record such as China’s, these bodies are likely political prisoners, the mentally disabled and perhaps even persecuted Christians whose bodies were taken, converted to plastic and put on display for profit. Gunther von Hagen, the “artist” behind Body Worlds claims that all of his bodies are donated; however, the NPR report found no clear paper trail, posing doubts about where his bodies were obtained. All of his cadavers are plastinized in China, where he claims the medical students are the most diligent and have the most dexterity.

Regardless of how the bodies are obtained, that people would find dissected bodies displayed as the living entertaining is difficult for me to imagine. It seems so sordid. If one is interested in anatomy, textbook illustrations provide all that non-doctors would need. Do we need to examine the dead? What does this say about our society that we put the dead on display? Even primative, savage societies respect their dead.

One of bodies in the exhibit is a young woman with an 8 month old fetus inside of her displayed. According to Wikipedia (I know) a sign nearby states that she decided to donate her body after she found out she had a terminal disease. Why wasn’t her baby delivered then? Eight months gestation is normally viable outside of the womb. There are plastinized children in the exhibits–can they provide consent? I also read that each of the plastinized bodies in the Body Worlds exhibit has von Hagen’s signature, as if it is his work of art, and his European exhibits include sexual exhibits.

How should we as Christians view exhibits such as these, particularly in light of 1 Corinthians 15:50-56?

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Any thoughts?

3 Responses to “Bodies On Display?”

  1. D.O. says:

    Rachel, you are good at doing your homework. I’ve read about this exhibit from a variety of sources, the most interesting being a Philip Yancey book (“Rumors of Another World” – Ch 1 if I recall correctly), and everything I’ve read was in favor of it. Not necessarily in favor, but certainly not opposed. None of them, however talked about the injustices of which you speak, which are clearly wrong (or they wouldn’t be injustices).

    I think that there are a lot of things going on in this fallen world today that are profitted off of that clearly shouldn’t be. We, I’m certain, take part in some of these unknowingly, which is sad to think about, but I’m convinced it’s nearly unavoidable. This museum is, of course, one that we can avoid if we so choose… I’m done.

  2. erin says:

    happy belated birthday Rachel!!!!1 I have been thinking about you this weekend and wondering how you have spent your birthday!! I thought you were going to Colorado???

    Well, about this exhibit, my parents went to go see it in Houston. When my mom was telling me about it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I think I got a little nauseous at the idea of people walking around this exhibit within touching distance of these bodies. I didn’t really understand it….and I too started researching it online to see what the heck it was about!!!!!! I didn’t find all the info you did……very interesting.

  3. Heather says:

    We took the boys to the museum in Houston and saw it. Of course, we knew nothing about any of the stuff you mentioned. We didn’t know anything about what we were walking into, except that it was a museum…and some things jive with what we believe…and other things, cause us to stop and “reeducate” our kids.

    While we were there, walking around, looking at each body I was overcome with how fragile we are…how we all look the same with out our skin on…how things like looks and appearance really are such a shallow part of our nature…and how amazing it is that God can even make one of those bodies…much less all of them, with their detail…really, I was OVERCOME in that place with a sense of wonder at who our God is and that He makes something as complex and delicate as our bodies work so beautifully. I left that day telling God that He is awesome…and reminding my kids that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

    So, reading this, I can see where you are coming from…but having been there and blindly walked through the exhibit, I can also rest in knowing that God spoke mountains of truth to us, even if we were dumb to the underlying, hidden things that were also in that museum that day. Of course, He can speak mountains of truth to us with out us going to a museum for that to happen…but it did happen there nonetheless.

    I am certainly not saying people should go, or defending it, but I won’t lie…we left there even more in awe of our awesome God.

    Now that you have brought this all out in the open though, I think people do have a responsibility to research it before they go see it.