Saturday, May 31, 2008

Odd Uses for dead Chinese bodies: Put them in a show.

Oh my! I'm not quite sure what to say.

Doesn't exactly make you proud to be a human being, now does it? By the way, these shows advertise heavily in both Los Angeles and New York City.

For those interested, it is my understanding that the Chinese government does use the bodies of executed political prisoners for medical transplants although it is also my understanding that the extent of the practice is sometimes exaggerated by its critics.

Peter Huston

New York settles with body exhibitor

By Cara Matthews • Albany Bureau • May 30, 2008

Following an investigation of allegations that an Atlanta-based company uses bodies of executed Chinese prisoners in its displays, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced a settlement yesterday that requires the Premier Exhibitions Inc. to document the origin of the cadavers.

Premier, which has had a human-anatomy exhibit in New York City since November 2005, will have to prove in the future that corpses and body parts it uses were obtained legally and with consent of the deceased.

That means the New York City show can continue running, but the company has to put a disclaimer on its Web site, at any New York exhibit and in its New York-area advertising that it cannot confirm bodies were not Chinese prisoners who may have been tortured and executed.

The company has to set aside $50,000 to give refunds to people who attest in writing that they would not have gone to the New York City exhibit if they had known the bodies were of questionable origin. About 1.5 million people have attended "Bodies ... The Exhibition" at South Street Seaport, the company said.

"The grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China," Cuomo said in announcing the agreement. "Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals. Nor is Premier able to establish that these people consented to their remains being used in this manner.

"Respect for the dead and respect for the public requires that Premier do more than simply assure us that there is no reason for concern. This settlement is a start," he added.

The remains used in the controversial Premier exhibitions are stripped of their skin, dissected to show a part of the internal anatomy and preserved with liquid silicone rubber, a process known as plastination.

The company has to hire an independent monitor for two years to ensure the settlement is followed and pay the Attorney General's Office $15,000.

"We are pleased with the outcome of the inquiry by the attorney general of the state of New York, and particularly that our exhibition in New York City will continue operating. We are glad to have this matter behind us," Premier lawyer Brian Wainger said.

Premier has five "Bodies" shows in the United States, with a sixth opening soon, and five abroad, Premier spokeswoman Katherine Morgenstern said. (A second exhibition, "Bodies Revealed" is in a few cities.) To date, all bodies have been from China.

Premier said it must rely on the affirmations of its Chinese supplier that the specimens did not come from the remains of executed prisoners.

The bodies were acquired indirectly from the Chinese police, which deemed them unclaimed, the Attorney General's Office said.

Cuomo's investigation followed an ABC "20/20" report in February that called into question whether preserved human bodies used in exhibitions nationwide had been legally obtained.

The Washington-based Laogai Research Foundation is calling on law enforcement authorities to take similar action in other states.

"This investigation has shed light on how certain U.S. exhibitions profited from the execution of Chinese prisoners," said Kirk Donahoe, assistant director of the group, which tracks human rights abuses in China.

The settlement makes it less likely that Premier and its competitors will display Chinese cadavers, not just in New York but around the country, he said.

"Using bodies without consent, regardless of where they came from is, in my opinion, highly unethical, so it should never have started to begin with," Donahoe said.

The "20/20" report prompted state Sen. James Alesi, R-Perinton, to sponsor legislation that would set up a permit process in which exhibitors would have to prove to the state that they had consent from the deceased or relatives to use the cadavers.

The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Democrat Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly, would exempt remains that were more than 100 years old, consisted only of human hair or teeth, were part of an ordinary display at a funeral home or memorial, were objects of religious veneration, or were in the possession of an accredited museum.

Alesi said he wants to amend the bill to make it clear that it doesn't apply to existing exhibits.

Cuomo's settlement does not involve The Universe Within Touring Co. of Baltimore, which had an exhibition similar to Premier's at the Rochester Museum & Science Center last year.

Reach Cara Matthews at

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