A Catholic life peer has backed calls to investigate the deaths of more than 20 men, whose skinless cadavers are on public display as part of an exhibition in Birmingham.
Real Bodies: The Exhibition, which runs at the NEC, Birmingham, until 19th August, is billed as ‘a powerful thought-provoking exhibition exploring life by displaying 20 real, perfectly and respectfully preserved human bodies and more than 200 anatomical specimens, inviting visitors of all ages to examine the human experience from the first breath to the last in dramatic and moving displays’.
However, Lord David Alton of Liverpool said the display raises “very serious ethical questions” and revealed that he would be questioning the Government over the issue.
His concerns come following a petition launched by medics, claiming that the Chinese men’s cause of death is ‘unknown’ and possibly ‘unnatural’.
The medics also claim that there are suspicions that the men had been incarcerated in Chinese prisons.
“This raises some very serious ethical questions, particularly given the persistent reports of forced organ harvesting and other unethical treatment of prisoners of conscience in China today,” Lord Alton told The Universe. “It would be macabre in the extreme if it was found that the bodies displayed in an exhibition in Birmingham were in fact those of Chinese prisoners. I hope this will be fully investigated and that the very highest ethical standards are applied.”
In an open letter to Louise Hunt, Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, the medics say that, under the Coroners Act, Ms Hunt has grounds to investigate the cause of death, as the deceased are currently within the Birmingham and Solihull area.
The letter, signed by Dr David Nicholl, Consultant Neurologist at City Hospital Birmingham; Dr Adnan Sharif, Consultant Nephrologist at University Hospital Birmingham and Secretary to Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH); and Dr Jenny Vaughan, Consultant Neurologist at Charing Cross, London, states that there is no suggestion that the import of the deceased into the UK by Imagine Exhibitions, the company behind the exhibition, was illegal. However, it identifies a loophole in the Human Tissue Act (HTA), which means that issues of consent are not considered in imported tissue.
The letter also cites similar calls from doctors, lawyers and scientists in Australia, who called for the exhibition to be shut down when it was recently on display there.
As reported by the BBC, the group in Australia protested that the exhibition may have included the bodies of executed Chinese inmates, including political prisoners.
Organisers of the display denied the allegations, branding them ‘lies’ and ‘sensationalism’. They claimed that the 20 cadavers were legally provided by a medical university in China, where hospitals determined them to be ‘unclaimed corpses’.
However, in their letter to Ms Hunt, the medics write: ‘The organisers have not been able to provide any information with regards to their exhibits in Australia recently regarding consent or cause of death, merely stating that they are ‘unclaimed’.’
They claim that the bodies are sourced from the same anatomist and university in Dalian, China – Hong Jin Sui – who is also associated with an exhibition titled Bodies Revealed, which previously exhibited in Birmingham in 2010, organised by Premier Exhibitions.
The medics explain that 70 doctors unsuccessfully attempted to highlight their concerns at the time, as their calls came too late to warrant a proper investigation.
They claim that the majority of senior staff at Imagine Exhibitions have also worked for Premier Exhibitions, and point out that both companies are based in Atlanta, Georgia.
In New York, Premier has a disclaimer on their exhibit stating: ‘This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.’
Such a statement suggests that the exhibition fails to treat the men’s bodies with dignity and respect – something Lord Alton insists should always be ensured.
“Our bodies are sacred vessels and even in death should be treated with respect and human dignity,” he said.
“I think back to the outrage rightly caused by the Alder Hey body parts scandal and by the use of aborted human remains being used to promote fashion and jewellery and the backlash this created.
“We are made Imago Dei – in God’s image – and at the lowest level human remains should be treated with decency and respect and never used for the purposes of entertainment.”
Lord Alton warned that this case “goes even further than previous unacceptable practices and historic necromancy and body snatching”.
“I recently attended a hearing in Parliament where we heard accounts of forced and fatal removal of organs of Chinese political and religious dissidents,” he said.
“The doctors who have called for the Coroner to investigate the origins and cause of death of these twenty skinless bodies are right to do so.
“I too will be asking the Government what they are doing to establish how these poor people died.”
Picture: The NEC, Birmingham. (PA).