Bodyworlds

For anyone who doesn't know what Bodyworlds is, http://www.visitlondon.com/bodyworlds/ is the exhibition I went to see today with my boyfriend. Bodyworlds is basically a "doctor" called Gunther von Hagens who plastinates real human (and animal, as I found out today) bodies after they've died and then exhibits them all over the world for the public to come and have a look at.

While I found the exhibition interesting, I still can't quite decide whether I like the idea or not.

I found it interesting from the point of view that it gives you the chance to see the scale of organs in a body, how muscles and skeletons and nerves etc. all fit together, how humans age, how diseases and things that happen in the body such as heart attacks affect organs... things like that. Being a science geek it did teach me quite a lot, and it was really interesting to see things on an actual human body rather than just in a diagram in a textbook.

However, I still can't get over the fact that they were actual human beings, who had real lives, and now that they've passed away they've become the subjects of a sort of morbid fascination people have. Some guy has just stripped their skin off, peeled away some of their muscles, stuck them in a pose and dipped them in plastic. Yes, the people have consented while they were still alive, but it still seems strange to me and I don't understand why people would choose to donate their body to something like this. There was an example copy of the form in one of the exhibition rules, but it seemed to me like this guy is just trying to cover his ass for anything illegal he does. Like something mentioned on his wiki page (so I don't know how reliable it is haha, but anyway...), he took bodies of executed Chinese prisoners to plastinate.
One thing that really upset me was in the first room we went into. The exhibition focuses on ageing, so the first room was about conception and embryos/foetuses. There were 8 little tubes half filled with some sort of liquid, and in each one floating on top of the liquid was a little tiny foetus, one tube for each of the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. In the next room there were 4 or so near enough fully grown babies lying there in glass cases. I don't know how on earth he managed to get so many unborn children, and what the f**k made the mothers consent to letting them be displayed like this. Makes me think that there's something not quite legal going on, but I dunno, it could be that there women have actually chosen to donate their children to him.
Yes, it's meant to be educational, and yes, it was to some extent, but I think it is more of a spectacle and a profit making venture for this man.

Chris tried to pull the card on me that when I go to uni (to study Zoology) I'm probably going to have to look at lots of preserved animal bodies, and medical students have to look at preserved bodies to, so if I'm okay with that then why is this exhibition any different? So I explained to him that the bodies preserved for students are purely for educational purposes and there is no profit or morbid fascination involved, whereas it's the opposite case for Bodyworlds.

I dunno, am I just being too over cynical with this, or can anyone else see my point? And what do you all think about the whole idea of an exhibition like this?

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15 replies since 28th October 2008 • Last reply 28th October 2008

I do like the idea of it. I don't think the idea is that it's morbid fascination - the man is trying to make a very valid point about how we're far too afraid of death and we need to own up to the fact that our bodies really are just a mass of intricately designed muscles and nerves.

Having said that...

I hate bodies. I hate thinking about my body. I hate knowing that blood is rushing through me right now, that I have hundreds of bones which are easily shattered, that while my body is this wonderful, beautiful machine, I could drop dead at any moment for no fucking reason whatsoever. It scares the hell out of me. So while I love knowing that people like him can be that brave, I'm just not, and there's no way you'd catch me at that exhibit. I'm simply too much of a coward.

I imagine it would all have to be legal. The baby thing seems a bit funny..but you do get some very forward thinking women. It's not something I think I would do, but I suppose...I'm not that grounded in terms of death and stuff. The foetus thing bothers me though, I hate foetus's, they upset me too.

Anyway, yeah, I don't like it and I'd never go, but I get it and..well, it's not like I'd petition against it or anything like that.

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Mike wanted to go but I really didn't want to go, I don't think it would really sink in that the bodies used to be living people but you still know that they once were. I'm quite shocked at the babies, I think that would have upset me, everyone is equal of course no matter what the age etc but maybe it's the fact that they never had a chance to live and now this is where they are that shocks me. It's a dead body at the end of the day. I'm not afriad of death, I just don't want to die at this moment in time, I'm freaked out by what's going on in my body and that the bodies there were once living people.

Although I've seen taxidermied animals before so it's the same thing...maybe it's because we can easily relate to a human.

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I'm sure that the fetuses were not killed for the exhibit, so it doesn't bother me. They must have died for whatever natural reason and then were donated. Same with the bodies. By the way, the Chinese have been selling the bodies of their executed prisoners to science for years. In fact, most of the human bones legally for sale in the world are from China. (Yes, it is legal in most areas to possess and buy human remains for scientific, educational, or display purposes.)

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its cool and kinda creepy at the same time

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I think it's great. I for one am terrified of dying, so facing stuff like this is good for me. maybe hehe

I saw in the London Science Museum, this guy was executed and gave his body to science. They sliced his body and now have a complete image via computer of how the body looks in each part. It's fascinating.
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/visible/visible_human.html

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I love this. The fact that I would be displayed forever and help others learn... that makes me happy. And these people definatley signed up for this, at least, we have something like this called "bodies", and they were all people who had signed up to have their bodies put on display.

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I went to bodies twice. And I was pregnant with Liam at the time. They say you can't smell them, and I did. It was terrible. I had to pay attention because it was for a biology class that I was taking. It was hard to concintrate. But It was super cool. I enjoyed the fetuses because it showed me how my baby was developing. Although a little sad. )=

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though you would never catch me near one of those things, i think they are a good idea. Im like Kit, i cant stand bodies, even my own. WE are human, end of story, i dont give a rats bum about what goes on inside. but when it to teach people, everyone, not just people with enough brains to get through bio class, i agree. and all the bodies have been there cause they argeed to it, before their death or their family did. For the sake of science.

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I'm super jealous, I really wanted to go, Tom and I were going to go for a date but then we found out how much it cost. Yeeeeeeek!

I think it's a grand idea. I'd rather have my bits donated to help keep others alive, if they're in good working condition than donate myself to be displayed. But yeah, the exhibition itself- wooo!

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The ones in Bodies were donated by the Chinese Government. So I am not sure if they agreed to it or not.

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The convicts probably didn't have a say.

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Yeah but it's not like any convicts who are executed there actually think they're gonna get a nice burial or anything..

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In prison you don't have any human rights anyway...least not in China, but still you know and I 'm sure these executions aren't done because of really serious crimes either. Anyway too late now.

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Roma - yeah it was pretty expensive for what it was, we both got concession prices because we're students but it still cost us £9 each (but Chris paid for me because he's lovely and works full time so he's got plenty of money hahaha).


I keep thinking about the thing with the Chinese prisoners... I don't agree with capital punishment so the fact that it's executed prisoners annoys me, but if they're going to be killed anyway because that's the way the Chinese government wants to do it, then their bodies might as well be used for something rather than just being got rid of.
It's kinda like organ donation, you might as well put them to good use after you die rather than them just sitting around and rotting/being cremated.

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