Friday, August 29, 2008

Key 'Bodies Revealed' Story Gets Star Coverage

Tha Kansas City Star reports today that the consent form provided to the press as proof of consent for corpses at 'Bodies Revealed' was fake. That story first broke here on August 14 and the Star duly gives us credit.

Here's the backstory on this curious claim in the Star report by Union Station chief Andi Udris:

Union Station CEO Andi Udris said officials learned of the mistake in March, shortly after the exhibit opened, and prepared a statement of explanation then. But the station did not release it, because questions about the form were not raised publicly at the time, he said.

“We frankly plumb forgot about it,” Udris said. “I don’t want it to appear that we were trying to hide or mislead anybody on it.”

They found out the form was fake in March, because the Key told them. Here's an excerpt of my email to an official at Union Station on March 20:

Thank you for taking my call the other day.

I’ve attempted by phone and email to contact Katherine Morgenstern at Premier Exhibitions without success.

I have asked her for a copy of the consent form in the original Chinese. There is serious purpose in that request. The form she provided you is word-for-word the same form written and used by Anatomy Gifts Registry of Hanover, Maryland. They are a non-profit seeking organs and bodies for medical research. I spoke with the person who wrote the form. He confirmed it is his language and not a standard form in broad usage. They have no affiliation with Premier or any organization in China. The form was written specifically to comply with Maryland law and the desires of their clients. Anatomy Gifts Registry has no idea how or why their form would be in use in China.

It is possible, though unlikely, that the recipient institution in China got hold of this form, translated it into Chinese and used it for body donations. If Premier will not produce a Chinese language form with the name of the receiving institution, the obvious conclusion of any article we publish would be that Premier lied to Union Station about its procurement of bodies for “Bodies Revealed”. Given the suspect nature of their procurements for “Bodies . . . The Exhibition,” it would be particularly damaging if they were guilty of outright deceit in this matter.

Soon after sending this email, I got a phone interview, not with Katherine Morgenstern (Premier's pr person), but with Brian Wainger, general counsel for Premier Exhibitions. Union Station sent him my email and he had read it, as well as the original Catholic Key article questioning the origin of the bodies.

Wainger confirmed that the form was not theirs and was not signed by any of the bodies at Union Station. He also gave an explanation as to how Union Station might have gotten the form as reported by the Key here.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Wainger if he would contact the Kansas City Star to set the record straight. He said he would consider it. That was March 24.

At this point, presumably expecting my article to appear in The Catholic Key, Union Station prepared a press release explaining the issue. When the article did not appear for some months, apparently Union Station felt no need to release it and "plumb forgot about it."

So much did they forget about it that Union Station continued putting out responses to inquiries repeating the unfounded claim, like this email received by a friend of mine in July:

Premier Exhibitions has always been upfront about admitting that Bodies: The Exhibition uses unclaimed bodies and that Bodies Revealed uses donated bodies. At this point, we have no reason to doubt what they are telling us regarding Bodies Revealed.

I did not put a story in The Key in March, because I decided to try to investigate exactly where the bodies did come from. This proved extremely difficult, in part because I do not read or speak Chinese. What I did finally find is that it is extremely unlikely that the bodies came from Chinese medical schools as claimed, as well as a flat denial from the medical university closest to the plastination plant in China that they ever provided bodies for plastination. That story is here.

It is interesting to note, that when New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo felt that patrons of Premier's show in New York may have been deceived about the origin of bodies in that show, he investigated and finally came to an agreement with Premier Exhibitions to refund tickets to anyone who would not have gone to the show had they known the truth.

Is Missouri AG Jay Nixon listening?