UPDATE: Agreement allows 'Bodies' exhibit to open in St. Louis

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 | 6:23 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The medical director for "Bodies ... The Exhibition," which arrives next month in suburban St. Louis, is confident the cadavers from China used in the exhibit are not those of political dissidents.

Roy Glover spoke Tuesday from the Galleria shopping mall, which will host the exhibit Oct. 2 through Jan. 31. A day earlier, Premier Exhibitions Inc. reached an agreement with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster allowing the exhibit to move forward.

Glover said 16 million people have toured the exhibit since it began in 2004.

"The exhibit will introduce people to their bodies in ways they've never dreamed of before," he said.

"Bodies ... The Exhibition" features 10 full bodies in everyday or athletic poses, along with 240 body parts. Corpses are stripped of skin and dissected to show the internal anatomy and filled with plastics that harden. Among the body parts on display are a healthy lung and a discolored, shriveled and diseased lung aimed at showing the dangers of smoking.

Atlanta-based Premier's agreement with the state calls for visible disclaimers that the bodies were obtained in China, but their origins are not fully known.

Human rights groups have raised concerns that Premier is profiting from bodies that could possibly be those of people killed by China's communist regime.

Sharon Hom, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China, said she was "appalled" that Missouri's agreement calls for only the disclaimer.

"In light of the widespread poverty in China and strong financial incentives that fuel a thriving black market in human organs and bodies — and the dismal human rights record and government secrecy about the number of executions — this exhibition raises serious legal and ethical concerns about the actions of the state of Missouri and the exhibitor," Hom said. "At the very least, the presenter of an 'educational' exhibition should include information about the human rights situation in China."

Glover signed an affidavit stating his examination of the specimens found no evidence of trauma or injury associated with torture or execution, and none of the bodies were of people who died of trauma.

Premier uses a partner in China to procure the bodies and body parts. Glover said the bodies were people who were unclaimed at death. In China, those bodies are turned over to medical schools for educational and research purposes, he said.

"Do we have confidence in the integrity of our partner? Yes," Glover said.

But Glover said Premier agreed to the disclaimer "because we did not ourselves personally receive the bodies in China."

The disclaimer will appear in capital letters and bold type at the exhibit. It will read:

"Premier cannot independently verify the complete provenance of the human remains in this exhibition. They were obtained from a plastination facility in China, which received them from medical and research universities in China. These universities received the remains from medical examiner authorities in the Chinese Bureau of Police. The specimens are unclaimed by next of kin and there is no written documentation that any of the persons consented to the plastination and/or exhibition of their bodies."

Koster lauded the agreement but told radio station KMOX he would not take his family to the exhibit.

"We asked Premier to make more robust disclosures at the site of the exhibit and in its advertising, and they voluntarily agreed to do so," Koster said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican whose suburban St. Louis district includes the Galleria, has been critical of the exhibition and has introduced a bill to prohibit the importation into the U.S. of plastinated human remains from China. He applauded the disclaimer agreement.

In May 2008, Premier agreed to a similar notice in New York state. Glover said disclaimers have also been posted in response to local requests at many other event sites.

In 2009, Hawaii became the first state to ban the display of a dead human body "for commercial purposes."

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