ABC 20/20 Investigative Report on the Bodies Exhibit, Part 1
Rep. Marcus Oshiro has spent the past several weeks doing a lot of research, talking with experts and professionals, weighing the pros and cons, and then doing considerable soul searching on the BODIES Exhibition at Ala Moana Center. His conclusion? This exhibit does more harm than good for our community, and he is working on legislation to prohibit such displays.
Premier Exhibitions opened the exhibit on June 14, 2008. It features specially preserved cadavers, posed in ways to demonstrate the workings of the human body. It is dramatic and educational, no doubt about it. However, the exhibitors admit that they cannot verify where the bodies came from, and this means that the human beings, while they lived, most likely did not give their consent for their bodies to be used in this way after they died.
Commenting to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin story on the exhibit, Rep. Oshiro said:
"In other words, it’s educational or health related values do not outweigh the moral and ethical concerns regarding the possible exploitation of unconsenting human beings. As such, there should be a law that would prohibit the exhibition of human remains and/or body parts without the consent of the donor. The issue of people selling, donating, or gifting their bodies for a commercial purpose is important, but not germane to the central concern I have regarding consent of lack thereof. In this instance, it is questionable that consent was given by these people and if so, whether the people understood that they would be plasticized and propped up and exhibited in this manner."
In addition to Honolulu, the exhibit has been set up across the country in Atlantic City, Fort Lauderdale, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and New York, and internationally in Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Santiago, Chile; and Madrid, Spain.
In New York, protesters rallied against what they viewed as an ethical violation of human rights. As such, the New York exhibition offers a disclosure and refund policy based on an agreement between Premier Exhibitions and the New York attorney general.
The disclosure partially states: (A) “This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”
Rep. Oshiro has done research on possible legislation. At present, New York has a bill going through their legislative session, introduced by Senators Alesi and Robach. The bill amends public health law to require that:
"The public display of human remains must be regulated to protect individual bodily integrity, as well as the social and cultural values of the state.
It is the intent of the legislature to require persons who participate in the public display of human remains for commercial purposes to provide evidence of informed consent from the decedent or relatives of all humans whose remains are put on display, and to provide for the continued use of human remains in the educational, medical, and scientific communities to promote human health and safety."
Rep. Oshiro stated that he "will propose legislation that would prohibit this type exhibition at the earliest legislative session. The U.S. Congress and the California and Pennsylvania Legislatures are also considering legislation to ban and/or regulate the exhibition of human bodies."
Here is part 2 of ABC's 20/20 investigation, including California legislation by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, of Chinese descent. Warning: graphic visuals of Chinese dead bodies.