There are many differing opinions about the controversial exhibit – Body Worlds – which preserves human bodies and poses them in an educational, entertaining way, then displays them in public exhibitions.
Since the first exhibit of Body Worlds opened in Japan in 1995, more than 28 million people have viewed one of the exhibits on display around the world. The controversial exhibit, Body Worlds, is now touring North America and opinions are flying.
If you are not familiar with Body Worlds, it is a collection of preserved ‘plastinated’ human bodies, organs and tissues. Each exhibit contains 25 full-body plastinates and more than 200 human organs in various states of health. The specimens are expanded ‘opened’ to allow the viewer to see the role of specific organs and tissues in their natural environment. Individual organs and organ systems are similarly expanded to draw attention to disease and the overall health of the system. Written information or for an extra fee – recorded information, is abundant throughout the exhibit, explaining in layman terms exactly what you are looking at.
For the most part people who visit the exhibit leave in a state of awe. Many of the people that view the Body Worlds exhibits say they learned a lot about the human body – which is the goal of founder Gunther von Hagens.
The controversy comes from the nature of the exhibit itself. The use of real human beings. People, who in their lifetime, lived, loved and ultimately died. Many people see the exhibits as being undignified and disrespectful. Others feel the displays are a waste of possible organ transplant material. Some people question how the bodies and organs are obtained – was there informed consent? One Bishop even went so far as to call Body Worlds ‘a kind of human taxidermy’.
Most people agree on the educational value of such an exhibit but question whether it should be made available to the general public or kept within the medical community. Von Hagens states that the purpose of Body Worlds is to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and show the effect of good health, poor health and lifestyle choices. He also hopes to create an interest in the science anatomy.
The Roman Catholic Church questions whether the Body Worlds exhibit has crossed the line between educational and entertainment. Many of the Catholic schools are refusing to consider the exhibits for field trips saying that exposing children to the exhibit should be a parents choice. Still other school board members think that the Body Worlds exhibit has such a high educational value that it should be mandatory viewing for all children over 10 years old.
In the end, each of us must decide for ourselves whether the moral and ethical issues being bantered about should influence our decision to see this controversial display of human anatomy.
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