Monday, August 18, 2008

More "Bodies Revealed" Revelations, Update 1

Last week we posted an item demonstrating that contrary to published reports, no documentation of consent exists for the Chinese cadavers on display at Union Station. The story also raised additional questions about the limited availability of legitimately donated bodies in China. The Kansas City secular media continues to ignore the story.

This week, we'll be further fleshing out the story.

Few bodies in China . . . Glut in the U.S.

When publicity for the Bodies Revealed show claimed the bodies on display came from accredited medical universities, The Key decided to contact the medical university closest to Nanjing Suyi Plastination Laboratories, where the bodies were received and prepared.

Googling for a contact, the Key found a March 2008 article from a journal of the American Association of Anatomists authored by anatomy faculty at Nanjing Medical University. Titled, "An Ethical Solution to the Challenges in Teaching Anatomy With Dissection in the Chinese Culture," the article documents and laments the shortage of bodies available for medical education at Chinese universities.

The authors also explain steps taken by Nanjing Medical University to increase body donations in a culture where they say, "One of the many factors limiting cadaver donations is traditional Chinese views of the body." The Nanjing authors claim that 80 bodies are needed per year for teaching purposes at Nanjing Medical University while they receive fewer than 30 per year.

How, we wondered, could there be a shortage of bodies available for medical education in China when there are hundreds of Chinese cadavers touring the U.S.? Why would a medical university in need of bodies for teaching be handing them over for foreign entertainment purposes?

We asked Dr. Jiong Ding, a co-author of the journal report and Chair of Anatomy at Nanjing Medical University, to explain the discrepancy. As we reported in our earlier post, he said:

"I declare seriously, the bodies of volunteer donors we received are only used for anatomy teaching in our Nanjing Medical University. We have never provided any body to any companies for making plastinated bodies or for any commercial behavior. The plastinated bodies showing in the United States from Nanjing has no relation with our university."

Beyond throwing cold water on the claim that bodies exhibit specimens come from medical universities, the Nanjing authors make several other pertinent points.

In their introduction to the journal article, the authors state:

". . . ethical issues pervade the methods used to study the human body, primarily cadaver dissection. It raises questions about the appropriate treatment of the human body in both death and life. A cadaver represents not only a scientific model of human anatomy, but a person that lived and deserves proper dignity and respect."

In order to increase medical donations in a culture that frowns upon the practice, Nanjing Medical University has taken several steps to alert the public of the need and value of medical donations and to ensure them that the deceased are treated ethically and with respect:

"Most recently, Nanjing University created a body donation website as well as a ‘'memorial forest’' for those who have donated their bodies to medicine. When a volunteer body donation occurs, the University invites relatives of the donor to plant an evergreen tree on campus, signifying the life-giving gift of the donor. There are also plans to construct a permanent monument in the forest as a tribute to donors who have dedicated their bodies to medicine. All incoming freshmen at the University will be encouraged to pay their respects to past donors at the memorial as one of their first acts as part of the University community. From the memorial forest, every student will sense the nobility of body donation and further contemplate the moral and ethical issues involved in body donation."

Nanjing Medical University has also instituted a program to integrate medical ethics into its anatomy program:

"As anatomy teachers, we are responsible for integrating a medical ethics education into human anatomy instruction. It is our duty to encourage students to adapt a proper attitude of respect and gratitude for the donators who have supplemented their medical education. . .

"Because of the anonymity of the cadavers and the inherent stress of the situation, perhaps some students may ignore or trivialize the humanity of the cadavers. To address this problem, the Department of Hunan Anatomy holds formal memorial services for the cadavers at the beginning of the anatomy course. Relatives of the deceased are invited to attend, and appreciation is shown for use of the deceased’s remains. Holding memorial ceremonies for the relatives and students are an additional way to honor cadavers and recognize the nobility of body donation."

One wonders what sort of memorial was held to honor the cadavers on tour in the U.S.

The Chinese view here of the respect to be accorded to their own dead is certainly at odds with that of the American gawker who shells out $24 to see a man "respectfully" posed standing and split down the middle with (to use an Austin Powersism) his "bait" hanging off one half and "tackle" off the other. Or the fellow "respectfully" sliced in dozens of cross-sections and laid out on a table. Or the one riding a bicycle, as the dead are wont to do.

In the next update, we'll look at conflicting accounts of the origin of the consent form that never was and how it was altered before being presented to the public.