Monday, September 24, 2007

"BODIES" in Pittsburgh, with Reactions

The Carnegie Science Center, in Pittsburgh, PA, announced that a touring museum exhibition, titled “BODIES …The Exhibition”, will be offered at CSC beginning October 8, 2007, through April 2008. The Exhibition stirred concerns held by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, which recently published its position.

The BODIES exhibition bears the tagline "A phenomenal look at the phenomenon we call the human body".

Its opening was promoted by CSC (one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh) in a Press Release, dated September 6, 2007, entitled "Tickets for BODIES Exhibition on Sale September 6".

Tickets go on sale today for the highly anticipated BODIES … The Exhibition at Carnegie Science Center. Due to the overwhelming popularity and subsequent long lines for BODIES in previous cities, the Science Center will begin selling timed tickets on September 6 at ticket counters, by calling 412.237.3400 or online at

The Exhibition will open its doors October 8 in a specially designed section of the SportsWorks™ facility at Carnegie Science Center.

BODIES provides visitors with an up-close look inside the body’s systems using real human body specimens. Many of the whole-body specimens are dissected in vivid athletic poses, allowing the visitor to relate to everyday activities.

In addition, authentic human specimens illustrate the damage caused to organs by lifestyle choices, such as over-eating and lack of exercise. A healthy lung is featured next to a black lung ravaged by smoking in a striking comparison more powerful than any textbook image.

The human body specimens in the Exhibition are preserved through a revolutionary technique called polymer preservation. In this process, human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber that is treated and hardened.

The end result is a specimen, preserved to the cellular level, showcasing the complexity of the body's many bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs. The full-body specimens can take more than a year to prepare.

The Exhibition will be open daily from 10 am – 9 pm. Tickets can be purchased at Carnegie Science Center ticket counters, online or by calling 412.237.3400.
BODIES … The Exhibition was organized by Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions, Inc. Some display locations in addition to Pittsburgh are noted currently on its website:
  • Domestic Displays: Branson, Missouri; Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York, New York; San Diego, California; & Washington, D.C.
  • International Displays: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lisbon, Portugal; & Prague, Czech Republic.
The upcoming Pittsburgh presentation is described on web pages posted by CSC:
More information about BODIES … The Exhibition can be gleaned from Frequently Asked Questions and Origin of the Specimens documents also posted by CSC.

The scheduled
BODIES exhibition stirred concerns of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Its responses were contained in a Statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh on "Bodies . . . The Exhibition", dated September 14, 2007.

This Statement began with a general statement about the Catholic perspective on "bodies".

It is a fundamental Catholic understanding that the human person, composed of body and soul, is made in the image and likeness of God. The Church witnesses to this in many ways, including the requirement that the bodies of the deceased be given care, dignity and appropriate burial.

The Church has long supported the donation of bodies for scientific research and educational purposes as long as the bodies are treated with dignity and are not displayed for entertainment purposes or for profit alone. It is also critical that whenever possible, the previous permission of the deceased or family members has been obtained. * * *
That Press Release then considered the upcoming exhibition, in view of the Catholic perspective on human remains:
The exhibit features dozens of preserved cadavers in posed positions, fetuses in various stages of development, and other body parts. The bodies were obtained by Premier Exhibitions from the Dalian Medical University in China, a leading international institution in anatomical studies.

BODIES … The Exhibition” has raised a number of concerns, most particularly the fact that the bodies were obtained without valid and informed consent. The bodies had been unclaimed and unidentified and were obtained by Dalian Medical University from Chinese police.

Representatives of the Diocese of Pittsburgh met with those involved in the exhibit at Carnegie Science Center to discuss the issues involved. All agreed that the educational benefits of “BODIES … The Exhibition” were clear. Additionally, the location of the exhibition allows manifold opportunities for reflection and exploration of the issues involved in the display, while making an extraordinary visual presentation of the dignity and miracle of human creation.

Our concern remained the source of the bodies, particularly when noting China’s record on human rights and mandatory abortion policies. The Carnegie Science Center supplied documentation and affidavits assuring that the bodies were of those who had died from natural causes and had been deceased and unclaimed for no less than four years. In addition, the bodies will be returned to China at the proper time for cremation or interment. Finally, we were assured that the fetuses had died naturally in utero and were not the result of abortions. * * *
Then followed the Diocese's recommendation to its members:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh recognizes the extraordinary opportunity this exhibit can provide in teaching on health issues, poverty and justice, and the dignity and sacredness of every human life.

Bodies…the Exhibition” is also being held in the proper educational setting in a non-profit institution. Serious efforts will be undertaken to work with the Carnegie Science Center to provide further information and dialogue on the ethical and moral teachings of the Church concerning the human body. We hope that other faith communities will do the same.

With the assurances that the affidavits provide over the source of the bodies and fetuses, and the understanding that it is morally ethical that bodies unclaimed over a definitive period of time can be used for medical study and education, the Diocese of Pittsburgh concludes the following:
1. "BODIES … The Exhibition” can provide worthwhile and effective opportunities to promote learning and to explore issues in the natural sciences, morality and spirituality;

2. “BODIES … The Exhibition” is certainly not appropriate for all audiences. Individuals in general and parents in particular must consider their own and their children’s sensitivities when determining whether or not to attend the exhibit;

3. The discussion generated in the public arena in anticipation of this exhibit is a valuable one that has raised serious questions about the dignity of the human person and how that dignity is expressed, protected and promoted. We applaud this public discourse on a matter so important to the fostering of a good society. We encourage continued dialogue on these important topics and welcome the opportunity to participate in them over the course of the exhibit’s stay in Pittsburgh.
I agree that there should be public dialogue on such issues. This dialogue should include the important related topic of "end of life" treatment & decision making. Other denominations conduct such discussions presently. See: PA EE&F Law Blog post, "UCC to Study Physician-Assisted Death" (June 29, 2007).

The last posted pronouncement by the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania about "living wills" occurred more than fourteen years ago. See: "Living Will for Proxy and Healthcare Decisions. (June, 1993). This predates significant Pennsylvania court decisions on these issues.

With the passage of Act 169 of 2006, effective on January 29, 2007, as new Chapter 54 ("Health Care"), of Title 20, of PA Consolidated Statutes, this publication also predates a sweeping change in Pennsylvania statutory law.
See: PA HealthCare DecisionMaking website, and this Blog's "tag" for "End-of -Life Care".

Perhaps a starting point for an updated statement for Catholics would be the statement published by the Catholic Bishops of Florida, dated January 1, 2005, entitled "Understanding the Catholic Declaration on Life and Death".

The Catholic Declaration on Life and Death is a health care advance directive for Florida’s Catholics and is approved by the Bishops of Florida. This directive conforms to both Florida law and the teaching of the Church.
Despite that relatively recent statement of faith & law, the Florida Catholic Conference continues to explore these issues at its Statewide Florida Respect Life Conference, scheduled for October 12-14, 2007. See: "Respect Life: Witnessing the Sacredness of All Life" brochure (243 KB, PDF, 4 pages). That Conference begins with a session entitled "Theology of the Body".

Representatives of The Vatican also have made statements about the role of a "living will" in end-of-life decision making. See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "
Vatican Favors Living Wills" (11/28/06). See also: "A Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decisions -- An Explanation of Church Teaching on Advance Directives, Euthanasia, and Physician-Assisted Suicide", posted by Life Issues, as reproduced with permission from the The National Catholic Bioethics Center; and also, "End-of-Life Ethics -- Preparing Now for the Hour of Death", by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J., posted by in the August, 2006 issue of the American Catholic Newsletter.

[Note: I reference these resources only as an an observer, being Protestant.]
Perhaps the upcoming discussions initiated in Pittsburgh around the BODIES exhibition could lead into additional discussions among Catholics in our state, that might manifest in posted guidance about end-of-life decision making under Pennsylvania's new law.

UPDATE: 09/24/07:

After posting this earlier today, I came across additional news reports or editorials regarding the BODIES exhibition. See: