Sunday, September 23, 2007

Body Worlds 3: fascinating yet disturbing

This weekend, my daughter and I visited the Body Worlds 3 exhibit and were equally fascinated and disturbed. I have wanted to view this exhibit ever since reading about it at the now extinct blog, The Examining Room of Dr. Charles.

Many people have viewed this exhibit for varying reasons. I have long been intrigued by the human body, especially the nervous system, and once considered attending medical school. I actually spent one year as a post-baccalaureate pre-med student before realizing that I'm just too damn old for that bumpy road and earned my MBA instead. I am also a fan of medblogs and live vicariously through the folks who author them. So, when Dr. Charles wrote about the exhibit, I knew I had to eventually see it . . .

I have to admit, the exhibit itself was a bit overwhelming for a non-medical type like me. My daughter and I examined everything and read all of the information available, but it was a lot to absorb. One could easily walk through and view all of the bodies and body parts as one would works of art--and isn't the human body truly the most amazing work of art in existence? Yet there was something just a little nauseating about the whole experience. A part of me felt like I was intruding . . . And the crowd flowing through the exhibit, peering at all the anatomical details with me, seemed extremely irreverent. As a Catholic, I couldn't help but wonder what the official Catholic stand is regarding the process of Plastination.

The answer, I found, is complex. When the Body Worlds 3 exhibit was in Phoenix in February 2007, Mike Phelan wrote about it in the Catholic Sun article titled, Death, the Body, and 'Body Worlds 3.'

Phelan neither condemns nor applauds the exhibit, but cautions Catholics that the body is sacred and is to be treated as such. He explains that "burial is the normal requirement" when a Catholic dies, but that we are permitted to donate organs after death. He points out that viewing the exhibit brings a person face to face with the eventuality of death, and notes that surrounding the exhibit are quotes from various sources throughout the ages and from different perspectives ranging from Christian to Atheist. I have to admit that I found all of the different quotes almost as fascinating as the posed bodies . . .

But the question that I couldn't keep from my mind was "would I want to be displayed like this after death?" Abso-friggin'-lutely not. And "would I want to see my parents displayed like this?" Oh, hell no. My children? You have got to be kidding . . . And all of these people on display were someone's parents, kids, etc. It haunts me still. Beautiful? Definitely. Disturbing? Oh come on--do I really need to answer that?

Before writing this, I tried to find the blog entry written by Dr. Charles that so invoked my curiosity. While his blog is no longer available, I did find an entry by Kim McAllister at Emergiblog titled "Body Worlds 3: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made!" Kim's review of the same exhibit (at the same location) was exactly what I needed to read. She helped me to set aside my own reservations and initial repulsion to the exhibit and to see it through her eyes--the eyes of a nurse who studied the human body in a much less reverent fashion:
My experience with anatomy and physiology was one class, thirty-one years ago, with one gray, formaldehyde soaked elderly cadaver. My eyes burned from the fumes. I barely touched it. It was gross, ugly and, well…blech!
Touché, Kim. I'm glad I read Kim's post--I now have a better appreciation for the exhibit I viewed this weekend. Perhaps I should go back . . .

Update (10/21/2007): Someone found this entry by googling "why can't Catholics visit Body Worlds." I'm a devout Catholic, and I visited the exhibit and wrote about it. Apparently the Catholic Church in St. Louis is advising schools not to visit the exhibit:
In St. Louis the Catholic Church has advised school officials not to take children on trips to the exhibit. Read more . . .
Wow. All I can say is, God gave us free will, and I didn't feel the need to go to confession after viewing the exhibit.

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