November 30, 2021

British House of Lords debates plastinated bodies exhibitions

‘The commercial exploitation of body parts in all its forms is surely unethical and unsavoury’

A bill has been introduced into the British House of Lord to ban exhibitions of plastinated corpses of anonymous Chinese prisoners.

In a debate, Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath told Parliament that he wants “to put a stop to the dreadful travelling circus of body exhibitions, which sources deceased bodies from China … those deceased human bodies and body parts are ‘unclaimed bodies’, with no identity documents or consent, sourced from Dalian Hoffen Biotech in Dalian, China. The commercial exploitation of body parts in all its forms is surely unethical and unsavoury. When it is combined with mass killing by an authoritarian state, we cannot stand by and do nothing.”

Lord David Alton, an independent, gave the bill his whole-hearted support. “The plastinated cadavers indicate that many are young people,” he says. “The Minister should establish whether it is possible to extract DNA from the corpses to discover something of their origins and their ethnic identity? The law did not require the Coroner to determine how the corpses exhibited in Birmingham had died. It should.”

Baroness Ilona Finlay of Llandaff, a palliative care physician, also supported the bill. She compared the “Real Bodies” exhibition to the notorious Burke and Hare of the early 19th Century, who murdered people to supply medical students in Edinburgh with bodies for dissection. “These bodies on display included a woman in advanced pregnancy. Did she give fully informed consent when dying in pregnancy? The evidence of proper consent processes should be open to international scrutiny. It is not.”

The government spokesman, Lord Bethell, said that the government would oppose the bill. “This is an important issue, but it is one that our laws already address, although we can do a lot more to increase awareness of the dangers involved.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

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