Experts and professional bodies in Australia are urging the New South Wales government to investigate a controversial exhibition in Sydney featuring flayed, plastinated human corpses sourced from China. They say the human corpses and body parts on display could be the remains of executed prisoners, including prisoners of conscience.
The ‘Real Bodies’ exhibition, which displays 20 real human corpses that have been plastinated alongside 200 plastinated body parts, has continued to attract public outcry over ongoing ethical concerns that the remains may be those of unwilling Chinese citizens. Plastination is the process of skinning human bodies and injecting liquid silicone into the flesh in order to preserve it.
“We now call on you as the NSW Premier for an immediate and full investigation into whether holding the exhibition complies with Australia’s laws, directives, and ethical standards,” the letter said. Among those who signed were Madeleine Bridgett, an international human rights barrister, professor of bioethics and medicine Ian Kerridge from the University of Sydney, and clinical ethics professor Wendy Rogers from Macquarie University.
The letter cited "grave and ethical human rights concerns" as to how and where the bodies and organs in the exhibition were sourced. It pointed out that Tom Zaller, the President and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions—the company behind the exhibit—has already publicly admitted that he had no consent documents and identification papers to confirm the origin of the bodies.
Bodies from Prisoners of Conscience in China?Zaller previously denied claims that the bodies were unethically sourced, saying that they were “unclaimed” bodies supplied by his business partner Dr. Sui Hongjin from Dalian, China. Sui is the director of the department of anatomy at Dalian Medical University and general manager of Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Co. Ltd.
"It is in these labour camps and 'black jails' that organ trafficking is known to occur on an unprecedented scale, via the harvesting of organs and tissues from executed prisoners of conscience," the letter said.
Through showing the bodies, the exhibition may be in breach of ethical and legal practice, the letter added.
NSW Health May Be Breaching Own Laws in Approving Exhibit"It remains unclear whether the exhibition complies with NSW’s anatomy licensing laws," the letter to the NSW Premier said.
"Despite repeated requests, NSW Health has failed to investigate the exhibition to ensure it complies with [its own policies]. We request that you direct NSW Health to conduct such an investigation."
In response to RACP’s letter, NSW Health said that the Anatomy Act did not apply to the exhibition as it only dealt “with the anatomical examination of human deceased bodies” and not their display.
Professor Ian Kerridge, chair of RACP’s ethics committee, said NSW Health’s response was concerning.
“There are legislation, regulations, and policies that apply to the movement of cells, tissues, body parts, and bodies across borders,” he said, reported Fairfax.
“In any case, what is troubling here is not simply the laws that surround these types of activities but the ethics of doing so, and on this, the state and Commonwealth governments are silent.”
International ConcernEthical and legal concerns have led to the banning of similar exhibitions of human corpses in other places, including Hawaii, France, Seattle, and Israel, as well as more recently, in Vietnam. The exhibits were suspended because organisers were unable to provide information about where the bodies came from.
The letter to the NSW Premier noted that trading in tissue and organ trafficking are serious modern slavery offences in Australia and around the world.
“On 6 June 2018, the NSW Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act 2018, which provides for the prohibition of trading in tissue. This provision has extraterritorial effect. Australia’s Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) also provides for offences of organ trafficking,” the letter said.
“Using human organs and tissues without consent for financial profit is the antithesis of international ethical and legal practice as set out in the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplantation and the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.”
NSW Health has been reached for comment.