We asked our readers in a story posted last week how they felt about the use of plastinated corpses in an ongoing exhibit from Cologne, Germany and in one due to open in the U.S. this summer. You answered in great numbers, weighing in largely in support of both exhibits. More than two-thirds applauded the technology and the exhibits, some even saying that they would be honored to have their own bodies made plastic after death for the sake of educational displays.
Those in favor made several points. One reader noted that showing plastinated corpses could be considered no more a desecration of the dead than placing mummies in museums. "Plastinated corpses give more information," she added. Others pointed out that corpses have long been used to educate medical students--and that this insight should be availible to all of us. "Too few," one man wrote, "are afforded a deep intellectual and aesthetic understanding of the nature of our own construction." Reflecting on his own experience in anatomy class, he continued, "that understanding has informed every decision of significance about my life."
But some readers were still uncertain. Most with mixed feelings felt plastination had tremendous educational value, but worried that this benefit might be undermined in exhibits designed more to satisfy curiosity. And a vocal minority--around 16 percent--found the exhibits morally reprehensible. "How de-humanizing can we get?" one man wrote. A medical doctor from Canada compared the shows to "the carnival atmosphere surrounding executions in Texas." And another reader said, "when you die, you should be allowed to die, not carted around the world as a laminated corpse." Remarked an art student, "Rest in peace, and not in pieces."
A selection of more opinions follows.
My own reaction was "a mix of enthusiasm and repulsion." I am excited about the realism plastination brings to anatomical studies, without the mess or expense of usual lab dissection. Thinking about displaying corpses, however, makes me sqeamish... but once they are plastinated, they seem so far removed from the natural (living or dead) state that it seems less of a desecration than even, say, displaying mummies or the Peat Bog man. We already do that with impunity, but I think the exhibition of these plastinated corpses gives more information, and most viewers I think will approach them more as highly detailed mannequins than as dead humans.
Plastination and a tour of this sort should help to remove more of the mythology that persists in this civilization. When we break through the myth, we make meaningful discoveries in the promotion of the human species.
Charles R. Pfaff
I think it is a great way to educate ourselves not only about our bodies but also about our taboos, fears and stereotypes--ruling the lives of most of us.
It doesn't mean revealing the intricate details of our bodies will remove, reduce or replace the appreciaton and respect for the human form.
Perphaps it will only reveal the length we still have to go before replicating such a fine design of nature.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This would be a very informative show, and it should be shown in all major cities. At the Lawrence Hall of Science, in Berkeley, Calif., a brain from a narcotics victim was displayed to students, and it was very effective in drug prevention.
I don't find it particularly relevant whether or not people are offended, nor indeed whether or not *I* am offended by this, provided the specimens are all obtained from volunteers of course. As cliche as it might sound, "if you don't like it, don't look at it." Your beliefs are your own responsibility and no one else's, and if they cause you to be offended by something that someone else does willingly and yet has no bearing on you personally, you have no logical right to force others to obey the whim of your beliefs.
Speaking as an educator of health care professionals, the plastinated corpses are a safe, sanitary and highly effective method of teaching anatomy that would have to otherwise be taught by dissecting cats and pigs!
I think education is the higher issue here. I personally would be honored for my dead body and/or parts to be used for this purpose.
Um... no, I don't want artists seeking out human bodies no matter what creative lisence they are granted. Will we allow people to sell their corpses on Ebay.com? How do you tell a child, "Yes that's your great grandfather standing on one foot while talking into the other like it was a telephone." These things would happen; they would not be saying anything that couldn't be said by an artist drawing/painting/sculpting such monstrosities. If they are truly 'artists' then they can fabricate these figures with other materials that represent or look like flesh and bone (and still call it 'art').
There is no extra message sent by using the real organic structure of a human being except to say, "Look, we don't mind creating a piece of plastic out of a human and putting it on display." How de-humanizing can we get? Just stick me in a chair in front of a computer and call it "Man at Work."
The use of these bodies for science or medical training is entirely different in that good specimens (still de-humanizing) can be re-used, meaning that fewer corpses are needed and unique physical conditions can be studied by more people.
Sheesh people... what will we allow this world to come to?
I would rather have this process performed on humans that die of natural causes than on animals killed specifically to create the display (ie the cow disected in the NY exhibit).
I think such an exhibit is fantastic. I think the human anatomy is incredibly fascinating and I cannot see anything offensive in showing real plastinated corpses for science education.
I have often pondered what I want done to me after I die, and quite frankly I'd have no hesitation donating my body to be plastinated for the purposes of science education. From the images displayed, I think it is as much an art as it is a science.
Being a college student myself, I know that physical examples are a very powerful way of learning. In the process of learning something, a physical example can boost the imagination to a deeper understanding. Although the plasticated human specimen is an exotic visual experience, to learn something is to make a connection with as many of the five senses as possible. The dramatic dicected muscles will definately stick in the minds of those opposing as well as those not opposing the display. I think they will have some better perspective and insight into human anatomy the next time it is a topic of discussion. I believe it would be an outstanding teaching tool.
Cumberland Gap, Tenn.
The idea of using real bodies for educational purposes is very interesting. I think that it will recieve mixed reviews, but should definitely be displayed. It will certainly be a big draw to museums, and will help enhance public knowledge about the body, human development and the stages of disease.
North Adams, Mass.
I believe that the posed action figures are a great way to show the body organs in the most meaningful way.
I think that the exibit is a beautiful mix of art and science. To make art out of dissection and display it so well, shows that it is not something disgusting or crass. I think the exhibit should remain, and I hope It will come to the U.S. I'd love to see it.
New York, N.Y.
After years of having to breath formaldihyde in college, graduate school and in teaching anatomy, I would say that this process should provide some manner of relief to those involved, both the student and the teacher.
Richard B. Terry
For educational purposes only. The deceased, plastinated or otherwise, have no business being an "attraction."
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Three cheers to the people that created this exhibition. Although I definitly disagree with the notion that it should be displayed as an artistic exhibition, it's use for education is to be applauded. Well done.
The plastinated corpses exhibit is an awesome scientific achievement. Its role in museums will be both illuminating of anatomy, human nature, the breaking of barriers--and a great opportunity for individuals to quell their morbid curiosity (my own included). Negative reactions will be guaranteed abundant if and when the exhibit arrives in religious America, so the material will have to be sufficiently toned down in order to avoid censorship. Even then, the possibility of it being accepted will be small, I predict. Perhaps an exclusive section can be erected for mature adults that offers more contentious structures?
As a scientist, I have no problem whatsoever with the display of plastinated corpses, or parts thereof for legitimate educational purposes. I do feel, however, that their use for sensational purposes, such as in sideshows, would be improper.
Every year, at hospitals and medical schools all over the world, human bodies are "desecrated" for the sake of knowledge and training of future MD's that, hopefully, will fulfill the Hippocratic oath and spare the rest of us, comfortably rested in our lounges, never caring about who dies and how.
Any outcry against this technique and the exhibition will be nothing but a mockery of hypocrisy. We all enjoy the benefits of medical research. When it comes to life and death, we don't care on whose corpse our doctor practiced surgery, or learned anatomy. Let's be respectful of the dead, but also greatful of their last, unselfish, surely unwished and ultimate sacrifice for their fellow human beings.
Education on the human body and anatomy does not begin in medical school. It begins from the day we are born. The people who donate their bodies do so in the interest of science... not in the interest of medical students or doctors. To say that using the human body to teach other humans about their bodies is desecration is reactionary and inflammatory. These people donated their bodies to facilitate teaching. We must allow their gift to us to be fully appreciated.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
I think that plastinated human anatomy can be a real learning tool. Showing the effects of smoking to real lungs I think is more effective than pictures or models. This concept adds reality to what you see.
Cadavers and preserved human organs and tissue samples have been used throughout the ages to help medical and other students learn anatomy. Use of plastinized bodies, if done in a manner that promotes education and avoids tasteless or sensational displays, would be very acceptable. I would want elementary school children to receive priority in attending the exhibit. It will only help them to gain a better grasp of the complexity and interconnectiveness of the human body.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
I work at the University of Michigan, which as your article states is heavily involved in plastination and this display, and I am totally supportive of this effort to educate the public using preserved human bodies. For too many schoolchildren--and the adults they grow to become--science is boring, dull and not seen as important to their everyday lives. But an exhibit like this can't help but give viewers a real appreciation for the wonders of the human body, the complexity of dealing with diseases that affect us, and the real physical effects that their own lifestyle choices (smoking, overeating) may have. People who may only have had a sad old skeleton hanging in their grade school science classroom, giving an unrealistic impression of the body, will now be able to see the amazing intricacy of the muscle system, the brain, the heart and much more.
I may be biased, but I can't endorse this enough-- as long as those who have donated their bodies continue to be fully informed about the potential use of their tissues for education. Who knows-- perhaps this exhibit will encourage more people to leave their bodies to science and find fulfillment in the knowledge that they'll be helping people even after their deaths.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
This sounds to me like a wonderful opportunity to educate the masses about how the human body looks and works from the inside. Before this display, people had to go to medical school if they wanted to view a cadaver. Text book diagrams can't possibly have the same effect as seeing the real thing. I especially like the comparison of healthy lungs and smoker's lungs. If this doesn't scare a smoker into quitting, nothing will!
As long as the individuals choose to donate their bodies before their death, I see nothing wrong with this display.
Plastinated corpses in anatomy classes AND in museums: in my opinion an excellent choice! Anatomy, as well as geography and other basic taxonomic and topologic sciences, is a compulsory background of every human being knowledge. NO disecrating feeling at all has to be considered in some way present around such corpses: on the contrary, there is herein a kind of sacredness, inherent in every knowledge.
If the mortal envelope--by permission of its owner, of course--is used in such a way, nobody can seriously object. People who disagree should better think about, and fight against, other human aberrations, such as race discrimination, ethnic exterminations, wars....
I have no doubt that some people will find the platicized body displays repulsive and offensive. I am not one of them. Most people are woefully uneducated about the intricacy, the complexity, and the beauty of the interior universe of the human animal.
The body's structures are spectacular, awe-inspiring. Too few of us have the opportunity to observe them in a calm, educational setting first hand. We may get a glimpse of the interior of the body on a show about paramedics or emergency medicine, but few of us are afforded a deep, intellectual and aesthetic understanding of the nature of our own construction.
Having taken a class in human anatomy that involved dissection of cadavers when I was in college, I can state unequivocally that although I was briefly afflicted with a sense of uneasiness when confronted with the reflection of my own mortality, so too have I been given a personal understanding of the transient magnificence of the vessel I daily inhabit. That understanding has informed every decision of significance about my life which I have made from that day to this.
I look forward to the opportunity to visit this exhibit, and hope that it will be making a stop in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mountain View, Calif.
Although I think that demonstration of realistic science is very important in furthering the scientific education of people, I do think that a line must be drawn when we are taking real bodies of once living individuals and putting them on display like paintings for our own amusement. Nature took decades to create these people and no one has the right to take their flesh just for show and tell. If an artist wants to make art, then they should make it themselves, rather than use people who have convieniently died. I do think that realistic, but artificial organs and bodies should be displayed for public education. And I think plastinated corpses are acceptable for educating medical students because they have a clear purpose, to enhance the quality of human life from the information brought on by death.
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
I am a medical doctor. I dissected humans in anatomy class and performed 15 autopsies as a medical student. I have been involved in almost every possible type of surgery. I felt that the autopsies were repulsive because such large areas of the body were uncovered. I don't particularly enjoy being near dead bodies, although my day to day work often requires it. I have no difficulty with brain surgery or heart surgery, for instance, because I know I am helping a living human being.
Putting human corpses on display for the shock value or to fulfill some macabre desire of the public rather than for medical education to benefit others is a total abuse of the individuals who donated their bodies and below the standards of any truly civilised society. I am sure that the great response to the exhibit in Germany was not because of intense academic interest but so that the onlookers could brag to others about their strong constitutions. It is like the carnival atmosphere surrounding executions in Texas and is deplorable.
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
What a fantastic exhibition. I can't wait to attend the exhibit. I only hope the deceased were aware of thier final disposition before hand. I hope this generates the same heat as Bio2000 did. Keep up the great work.
The issue is most controversial for the deceased whose bodies are plasticated. Most people who donate their bodies to science do so with the intention that the knowledge gained benefit future generations. The question is, do the donors realize just how liberally their gift may be used. Did the individuals whose corpses form the exhibit know explicitly what "donating to medical science" entails? If one chooses to sign a consent form to being splayed open like "The Runner" exhibit then that is their choice; otherwise it does border on some very gray areas.
The display of authentic human material will always cause problems because we are looking through a mirror of ourselves.
While many institutions are correctly returning individuals who were recovered from burial sites or simply stolen, this proposed display will not fall into that category if we can be assured that the value of the exhibition has a worth greater than the curiosity value we sometimes place on the macabre or unusual.
Also the public must be assured that the individuals actually donated their bodies to science / education and indeed those individuals were aware of what was the likely future of their bodies once they were prepared. Indeed the real purpose of just such preparations is for students of medicine etc. For the public not used to viewing such glimpses of themselves it will be necessary to approach the displays with sensitivity and respect because what we will be looking at is ourself exposed for all to see.
As an individual who has long been involved in many of the techniques used in the preparation of zoological material, it is refreshing to see that we humans are no more or less significant, but just as intreguing and valued as the other specimens of natural history in all its branches that grace and educate the public who visit them in the museums through out the world.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
I don't think this is a very good idea. It is unnecessary and immoral. I do believe in organ donation in aiding others to survive and live on. However, this would only be a display and would do nothing to help the human race.
I don't believe in this because I feel it to be desecration of the dead. I believe that when you die, you should be allowed to die, not be carted around the world as a laminated corpse.
This kind of work is a melding of art and science. Anatomy in this form is unique and thought- provoking. I believe that all people, including children, can respect the fact that what they are seeing is (or was) a human being. I also feel that this exhibit would be fascinating to children interested in science and scientists as well. I would be very disappointed if the people of our country (including myself) miss the opportunity to see this exhibit.
It is my belief that the plastinated corpses are an incredible educational tool. I will never get the chance to dissect a human cadaver. I have immense curiosity about the inner workings of my own body. Even though I have learned some about organs and organ systems in our bodies, nothing would be able to replace seeing the reality of what is inside of our bodies. I without a doubt believe that it would be a thrilling experience for anyone to see the insides of their own bodies; doing this by looking at plastinated remains is therefore a wonderful thing.
It will be immensely useful for anyone interested in Biology and Physilology. The idea of viewing the various functional organisms of human body while performing an action is facinating and improves one's understanding of the involved processes.
I hope that any exhibits that do not have scientific value will be weeded-out, so that opposition is minimized. Good luck.
I've never heard anyone complain about storing animals or human parts in chemicals. That plus the offensive odor is repulsive!!! Plastinization is a boon to students & the medical profession. People should be open minded about such new developments. Come on people, give this new SCIENCE a chance.
This process is a wonderful way to bring the complexity and beauty of the human body to the non-professional, non-medical community. As with all such displays there will be those who are repelled, disgusted or just not interested. This small, though usually vocal, minority should not be allowed to disuade those who prepare these displays or potential sites from accepting this them.
In response to the issue of "plastic bodies on display," I think this process is an invaluable tool in the quest for knowledge of the human body. I also believe that it would be more than beneficial to have these types of preserved specimens in schools at every level of education. I am a new student to the study of