Calgary Bishop Cautious About "Body Worlds"

Says More Than Anatomy Should be Studied

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CALGARY, Alberta, MARCH 23, 2010 ( There are ethical and moral issues to be considered in putting real human bodies on display, says Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary as that city prepares to host the internationally renowned “Body Worlds” exhibit.

The prelate wrote about the exhibit in an article published on the diocesan Web site. Body Worlds opens in Calgary on April 30. It presents real human bodies that have been subjected to plastination, thereby enabling viewers to see the details of the bodies’ anatomy.

Bishop Henry noted critiques proposed by some of his brother bishops: “When a Body World exhibit came to Cincinnati, Archbishop Pilarczyk stated: ‘The public exhibition of plasticized bodies, unclaimed, unidentified, and displayed without reverence is unseemly and inappropriate.’
“In Kansas City, Bishop Finn and Archbishop Naumann complained: ‘It represents a kind of “human taxidermy” that degrades the actual people, who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed and died.'”

Bishop Henry illustrated some of the moral issues that the exhibit involves. “The Church’s concern for human dignity extends to the body even after the soul is no longer present,” he explained. “The bodies of the dead deserve respect and charity, preserving the God-given dignity of the human person.”

“Another major issue is whether the bodies have even been appropriately obtained,” the prelate observed. “[…] There are both privacy and transparency issues to be sorted out.”

Bishop Henry acknowledged that a “good argument can be made that there is also legitimate educational value in the use of plastinated models to teach anatomy.”

But, he suggested, when bodies are displayed “at play or posed in athletic mid-movement or ghoulishness […] we have crossed the line from education into the realm of entertainment, questionable art, and commercial showcases.”

In this context, the prelate wondered, “Who stands to gain by such productions? What’s the profit margin?”

He concluded by reiterating that morality and ethics should be considered by would-be Body World viewers.

“Whether or not children visit this exhibit is a parental decision,” he said. “Is it appropriate for all? Probably not. Should attendance be related to a particular course of studies? Probably, and hopefully not just anatomy and economics.”

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