Plasticize Me: The Ethics Of What To Do With The Dead

manseau-575Will recent advances in human tissue preservation change the way we think about bodies, death, God…and China?

Guernica discusses how “plasticization” and other advances create new questions regarding how we may make use of corpses. Cadavers are in-demand like never before, for all sorts of purposes, including macabre exhibitions:

Von Hagens is a tireless promoter of the ethical difference between his exhibits and the others. “All the copycat exhibitions are from China,” he told the New York Times. “And they’re all using unclaimed bodies.”

Both “Bodies…The Exhibition” and “Body Worlds” make use of a new technology von Hagens calls “Plastination,” by which all water is removed from human tissues and replaced with soft silicone polymers. A macabre detail included in the story von Hagens tells of the development of this process hints at the ethical questions that were to come: He first thought of creating perfectly preserved cross-sections of human bodies when he was at a sandwich shop one day watching a butcher run a ham through an electric slicer. It was a flash of inspiration that foreshadowed the dehumanization of the bodies that would follow, for after the Plastination process is complete, von Hagens no longer calls them dead bodies, or corpses, or cadavers, but rather “plastinates.”

The lack of oversight by either government or medical authorities in China has allowed the body processing market to boom in recent years. Even von Hagens, who protests that “his” bodies are of European origin, processes all the human remains for his exhibitions in China. Cases have been cited of bodies discovered on farms, kept on ice, and destined for Plastination factories in the coastal city of Dalian. Doctors and medical students from Chinese universities, which are in every way complicit, admit that they have no idea from where the bodies on which they work have come.

, , , , , , , ,

  • ZZZzzz

    Yeah, I went to a “Bodies Exhibit”, last year and I was under the impression that all the bodies were willingly donated by their erm…owners? Anyways when I was there I started to notice that a majority of the bodies were really small, like youth size, so I asked the people behind the information desk and a man explained to me that most of their cadavers are unclaimed, unidentified Chinese citizens. Really odd.

  • ZZZzzz

    Yeah, I went to a “Bodies Exhibit”, last year and I was under the impression that all the bodies were willingly donated by their erm…owners? Anyways when I was there I started to notice that a majority of the bodies were really small, like youth size, so I asked the people behind the information desk and a man explained to me that most of their cadavers are unclaimed, unidentified Chinese citizens. Really odd.

  • Kat

    I’m so confused. I thought that Von Hagens and BodyWorlds were legit, and it was Bodies: The Exhibition that had questionable sourcing of cadavers, and that it was not affiliated with Von Hagens.

    ZZZzzz: I think it’s interesting that bodies seem smaller than they should be, even if they’re not Chinese or youth. From a distance, I thought the plastinates at BodyWorlds were too small. Likewise, when I was in nursing school and we were watching dissection of a cadaver, everything seemed so small. I thought my lungs were so large and the ones from the cadaver were pretty small. I liken it to when you lose a tooth as a child… it feels so big inside your mouth but then when you see it, it’s really very small.

  • KatGamer

    I’m so confused. I thought that Von Hagens and BodyWorlds were legit, and it was Bodies: The Exhibition that had questionable sourcing of cadavers, and that it was not affiliated with Von Hagens.

    ZZZzzz: I think it’s interesting that bodies seem smaller than they should be, even if they’re not Chinese or youth. From a distance, I thought the plastinates at BodyWorlds were too small. Likewise, when I was in nursing school and we were watching dissection of a cadaver, everything seemed so small. I thought my lungs were so large and the ones from the cadaver were pretty small. I liken it to when you lose a tooth as a child… it feels so big inside your mouth but then when you see it, it’s really very small.

    • ZZZzzz

      I would figure that the body and insides would shrink to a degree once removed and being dead. In fact when I was about to ask the information attendant, I got a feeling I was asking a dumb question that was probably going to be answered in an annoyed duh, that’s what happens! I tell you I was NOT expecting to be told that they were simply unclaimed dead given to the exhibit BY the Chinese Gov! (And yes that is in fact what he said to me, w/a grin even.)

  • ZZZzzz

    I would figure that the body and insides would shrink to a degree once removed and being dead. In fact when I was about to ask the information attendant, I got a feeling I was asking a dumb question that was probably going to be answered in an annoyed duh, that’s what happens! I tell you I was NOT expecting to be told that they were simply unclaimed dead given to the exhibit BY the Chinese Gov! (And yes that is in fact what he said to me, w/a grin even.)

  • justagirl

    if you are interested in this sort of thing you should read “stiff” by mary roach. there’s an entire chapter about plastination. the book, as a whole, is also very interesting and she is pretty much adorable with her investigations. i have also been to the plastination exhibit at the museum. it was amazing. i recommend going to it if it comes to town. er… as a spectator. (lol).

  • justagirl

    if you are interested in this sort of thing you should read “stiff” by mary roach. there’s an entire chapter about plastination. the book, as a whole, is also very interesting and she is pretty much adorable with her investigations. i have also been to the plastination exhibit at the museum. it was amazing. i recommend going to it if it comes to town. er… as a spectator. (lol).

  • Validemail

    Enjoyed this exhibit a couple of years ago. The experience was even improved with the addition of snacking on beef jerky….

    • Ironaddict06

      Yes, I did too. I was able to see the exhibit at the Houston Museum of Science.
      Amazing.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6TF3HJDO67QPMGIRDEG22W5EQ kls525

      You’re sick.

  • Validemail

    Enjoyed this exhibit a couple of years ago. The experience was even improved with the addition of snacking on beef jerky….

  • Ironaddict06

    Yes, I did too. I was able to see the exhibit at the Houston Museum of Science.
    Amazing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6TF3HJDO67QPMGIRDEG22W5EQ kls525

    You’re sick.