If you’ve seen the “Bodies” exhibit at the South Street Seaport in New York City, you’re entitled to a refund (click here for info) according to a new agreement between New York’s Attorney General’s office and Premier Exhibitions, Inc. When “Bodies” first opened here over two years ago, some opponents questioned whether the Chinese cadavers were legally obtained—or whether they were Chinese political prisoners who hadn’t consented to being plastinated, flayed, and displayed by a private for-profit company. At the time, Premier Exhibitions’ president said all the bodies were documented: “Although he said he was not allowed to keep copies of documents, officials at Dalian University in northern China showed him papers attesting to the origin of the remains,” wrote the New York Times in 2005. Then ABC’s news show “20/20” aired an investigative report this past February that showed otherwise.
From ABC News:
Premier Exhibitions says that the “unclaimed” bodies on display were legally obtained from Dalian Medical University.
ABC News’ “20/20” reported earlier this year that the bodies did not come from the university but instead from a private, for-profit lab about 30 miles away. “20/20” interviewed someone who said he was a former participant in the black market, in which, he said, bodies were sold to that lab for $200 to $300 each. Dalian Medical University told ABC News that it severed its ties to the plastination lab several years ago.
Premier’s former CEO Arnie Geller, who is still on the company’s Board of Directors disputed the allegations on “20/20.” He said that his suppliers assured him that “these are all legitimate, unclaimed bodies that have gone through Dalian Medical University.”
“20/20” also reported that the inventor of plastination, Dr. Gunther von Hagens (who has touring body shows that are not related to Premier Exhibitions or their exhibits), claimed he stopped using Chinese-sourced bodies entirely because of his suspicions that they were unethically obtained:
Von Hagens says he had to cremate several bodies he received in China after detecting injuries that led him to suspect they had been executed prisoners. He says those bodies were given to him by a medical school in China to plastinate for teaching models. He said he only used Chinese bodies, all of which he received from the Chinese university, for teaching models, but has never put Chinese bodies on public display.
“There is now no way for me any more to work with specimens in China,” said von Hagens, who says his company in China now only deals with animal specimens.
Oddly, there are no customs restrictions in the U.S. with plastinated corpses at the present, writes ABC News:
U.S. Customs has said that since the plastination process changes the nature of the human remains, plastinated body parts can be imported as plastic objects, not as human bodies.
This is why 21 members of Congress have sponsored a bill that would prohibit the importation of plastinated cadavers entirely.
WNYC reports that as part of the agreement, Premier Exhibitions will have to post a warning now that some of the bodies may be those of executed Chinese prisoners, which we imagine would put a damper on any future visits.
We can’t find any details yet on how to request the refund, so if someone finds out, please send us a tip. Thanks to Brian and Melt for the refund contact info!
“‘Bodies’ exhibit avoids a stiff penalty” [Daily News] (Thanks to Alex!)
“Cadaver Exhibition Raises Questions Beyond Taste” [New York Times]
“Exclusive: Secret Trade in Chinese Bodies” [ABC News]
“Lawmakers Call for Crackdown on Bodies Exhibits” [ABC News]
H.R. 5677 [GovTrack.us]
“State Reaches Settlement with Bodies Exhibit” [WNYC.org]