October 26, 2010 Reach Out and Touch Someone: Cadaver, Body Parts Supplier to ‘BODIES…The Exhibition’ has STL, NY Connections (3rd of a 3-part series)
ST. LOUIS—Although Dalian Medical University’s cadaver processing center for “BODIES…The Exhibition” is 6,000 miles away and 12 hours ahead of local time, its administration had once bridged cultural and time gaps enough to court a university right here in St. Louis.
The Chinese supplier of cadavers for the controversial anatomy exhibit that opened here early this month at one time had discussions with St. Louis University’s School of Public Health to form a joint educational program.
According to the web site of the supplier, Dalian Medical University (DMU), an announcement dated Sept. 16, 1999 said DMU signed a “cooperation intention” to develop a joint degree program with St. Louis University’s School of Public Health: http://mbbsinchina.com/blogs/dalian-medical-university/ .
“BODIES…The Exhibition” opened in the St. Louis Galleria in Richmond Heights October 2 and is expected to draw hundreds of St. Louisans at $22 per ticket during its four-month stay.
The traveling exhibit features human cadavers in lifelike poses and has been seen internationally by 15 million people. In 2006, allegations surfaced that the exhibit’s cadavers were those of tortured Chinese dissidents who may have died in prison or were murdered.
1n 1999, Dalian Medical University—which owns the plastination center where the bodies were embalmed for display—was in talks with administrators at St. Louis University School of Public Health to collaborate academically, according to Nancy Solomon, communications director of the SLU Medical Center.
By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
“It was something that St. Louis University was considering exploring, but it never got to a point where it was a joint relationship,” she said. “It was something that never came to fruition.”
SLU sent representatives to China to hold discussions that never “got off the ground” to form the program, Solomon said. “A trip or two were made,” she said. Questioned why the plans never actualized, Solomon said, “I don’t really know what happened.”
“BODIES…The Exhibition”—the exhibit visiting St. Louis—is criticized as a “copy-cat” version of Gunther von Hagens’ “Body Worlds,” a show the German physician founded in 1995. Indeed, the founders of both shows worked together until the relationship ended and a legal battle ensued.
The supplier of cadavers to the show, Hong Jin Sui, was at one time the general manager for Gunther von Hagens’ plastination plant at Dalian. He was later fired by von Hagens for allegedly secretly running his own body processing plant in Dalian.
DMU in the past owned 70 percent of the plastination center, one of the largest such centers in the world. The plastination procedure impregnates tissues to store human bodies and body parts. The process preserves cadavers and organs indefinitely while allowing them pliability.
Von Hagen’s “Body Worlds” obtains permission from humans before their bodies are plastinated while the St. Louis exhibit, “BODIES…The Exhibition,” provides little or no documentation of the provenance of their exhibited cadavers.
Critics of “BODIES…The Exhibition” say that the exhibit crosses over lines of propriety and especially human rights. It has been the impetus of legal action in Missouri and has been banned from returning to Seattle. The origination of the cadavers exhibited has long been the target of intense international scrutiny.
A May 2008 filing from the New York Attorney General’s office stated that the cadavers and body parts in the “BODIES…The Exhibition” display that year in New York City were obtained from China in 2004, and that they were leased from DMU Plastination Co. Ltd.
Brian Wainger, attorney for the company that owns the exhibit visiting the St. Louis Galleria, Premier Exhibitions Inc., did not confirm or deny whether the bodies or body parts were the same as the New York 2008 specimens. Katherine Seymour, Premier Exhibitions’ vice president of public relations, could not be reached for comment.
The St. Louis Galleria show is prefaced: “Premier cannot independently verify the complete provenance of the human remains in this exhibition. They were obtained from a plastination facility in China, which received them from medical and research universities in China. These universities received the remains from medical examiner authorities in the Chinese Bureau of Police. The specimens are unclaimed by next of kin and there is no written documentation that any of the persons consented to the plastination and/or exhibition of their bodies.”
Eye, Heart: New York
Dalian Medical University has established relationships with universities in Europe, Asia and North America for research and faculty exchanges.
In fact, the State University of New York College at Buffalo’s Center for Health and Social Research (CHSR) has collaborated with Dalian Medical University for more than a decade. The Center’s director, William F. Wieczorek, Ph.D., has held positions at DMU’s Institute of Behavioral Medicine. The universities partner in mental health studies.
Wieczorek said he was unaware of DMU’s activities in plastination when the partnership was established in the late 1990s. He said that when dealing with schools and government entities abroad – especially those in China – it is challenging to spot any problem areas they might present. “Coming from the outside, you have almost no ability to identify it,” he said.
“As an academic, I think it’s rare that things are so clear-cut,” Wieczorek said. “I think the best due diligence you can do is be aware of the parts of a system you are working with.”
Case studies from Dalian Medical University’s Institute of Behavioral Medicine are world-renowned as “excellent,” he said. Nevertheless, the University has been targeted by news outlets and human rights groups for its involvement in plastinating the remains of Chinese dissident prisoners.
Wieczorek was co-principal investigator with four DMU researchers of the National Institute of Mental Health-funded study, “Studying Suicide with Psychological Autopsy,” published in 2002.
“I think their (Chinese) universities are working hard to achieve Western-style ethics in teaching, practice and research,” Wieczorek said.
Editor: Michael C. Carolan
Tags: Bodies...The Exhiibition, Brian Wainger, Dalian, Dalian Medical University, Gunther von Hagens, human plastination, human rights, Premier Exhibitions, St. Louis Galleria, St. Louis University School of Public Health, SUNY College at Buffalo Center for Health and Social Research, SUNY College Buffalo