Thursday, April 3, 2008

Body Worlds

Last Sunday, Eric & I decided to go to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles to see the Body Worlds exhibit. For the uninitiated, they display real bodies, and parts thereof, so that the public can learn how they work.

It was a fascinating exhibit. The lines were lengthy, but because of my ongoing intermitant health issues, we were able to bypass them and get right in. It was very crowded; the people were polite and interested. And many of the exhibits were - ahem - life sized.

The displays were startling. They have a process by which they plasticize the parts - and the whole - so that they're perfectly preserved. The Body Worlds link that I've provided has a separate embeded link within it that will explain the process if you are interested. They had whole skeletons with the muscles, tendons, or "whatever" attached. Glass eyes would look upon us as we would stare at them. But the weirdest part was the poses that the bodies were in. Olympic poses. Like they were playing the Olympic games. I'm serious. A Javelin Thrower, a pair of Ice Skaters... and many others.

Eric was a little bit nervous about the exhibit in advance. "I heard that most of the bodies are Chinese." he muttered. But I was not concerned. Nor was I "grossed out". He couldn't claim the same, however. He confided that it made him a bit nauseous, and that he was likely to have nightmares.

I grew up in a physician's home. My father would often initiate blood-and-guts conversation at the dinner table, and it was not unusual that we would have blood draws from various patients with chemicals added percolating in our refrigerator at home next to the food. In fact, I had a conversation with my sister when I was just entering my 40s. I was startled because I had just realized that when people asked me not to discuss certain topics related to the body at the dinner table "because we're eating," that they actually MEANT it. She had not come to the same conclusion yet.

So I was not disturbed at the museum. Rather, I was impressed by the many displays and could hardly get my fill. I was sorry that I was tired towards the end... they were just getting to the part where they were showing the effects of a fatty and poor diet. There was a cross-section, the long way, of a human where you could see at least 3" of fat between the organs/skeleton and the skin, all the way around. There were veins and arteries coated in plaque. I, of course, have a special interest in that given where I come from. But fatigue set in and rather than examining this part in depth, we decided to head on home.

I started asking questions about the bodies later. Did they really all originate in China? And if they did, is there an ethical dilema? Although I was assured by friends that they didn't, I was not reassured.

The bigger question I had, though, who were these people in life. They were posed in olympian stances... were displayed as fit and true. In life, were these people athletes? Were they young? Or were they old and then "lifted" and the poses they are in were the ultimate joke? How, exactly, did these people die?

When you donate your body to science, you take a chance on what happens to it. But if the people knew of their end, would they approve?

I strongly agree, in principle, to the exhibit. Not only do I recommend going to it if you're lucky enough to have one come to your geographical area, but I plan to take Vennie to it when she comes to California later this month.

But I'm still left with the disquieting feeling that everything is not quite right about the origins of the displays. I guess that means that I am not quite as calloused as I formerly thought.


hot tamale said...

I saw this exibit in San Diego and wondered this same thing about "who" these people were? I think I would have liked sitting around your dinner table with your Dad. I would have asked so many questions. LOL
I think Vennie will enjoy this exibit too, if she hasnt seen it already

janet said...

Rest assured, all of the bodies in Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworlds exhibits are donated willingly by their prior owners. I understand he has thousands on his donor list. There are similar exhibits, owned by I'm not sure whom, where the origin of their plastinates is questionable at best.


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