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Originally published July 18, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Page modified July 20, 2010 at 11:08 AM

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Seattle council bans exhibits like 'Bodies'

It's unanimous: There will be no more commercial cadaver displays in Seattle — unless the deceased or their families have consented. Monday, all nine Seattle City Council members voted in favor of the new legislation, which will affect exhibits such as "Bodies" that display preserved human cadavers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's unanimous: There will be no more commercial cadaver displays in Seattle — unless the deceased or their families have consented.

Monday, all nine Seattle City Council members voted in favor of the new legislation, which will affect exhibits such as "Bodies" that display preserved human cadavers.

Seattle residents — from anatomy professors to museum directors — have voiced concern over the ethics of such exhibits, specifically because Premier Exhibitions, which sponsors the "Bodies" exhibit, says it can't verify where the bodies are from or that the deceased on exhibit consented to such display.

"I'm proud of this City Council," said Patrick Burns, a Seattle resident and retired union carpenter who became concerned with the issue after "Bodies" came twice to Seattle.

He said crowds of people would line up as if they were at a movie theater, smiling and chatting as they waited. But they weren't going to see a film — they were going to see cadavers staged in poses, as if playing football or volleyball, for example.

"They had no sense that these bodies were precious human beings to some family," Burns said.

On its website, Premier said it obtained its more than 200 bodies from a plastination facility in China, which received them from Chinese medical universities. The universities received them from the Chinese Bureau of Police. Exhibition coordinators could not be reached for comment.

Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored the legislation, said he researched other states such as Hawaii and New York that have similar restrictions in place. Seattle's law is modeled after a similar bill in San Francisco, he said.

Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess said the law is a "small but good step" toward stopping human trafficking that will "lift up the dignity and value of human beings."

"Bodies" came to Seattle in 2006, then again in 2009. While the exhibit was here, the state attorney general posted a notice at the exhibition's ticket-sales window announcing that the company could not verify where the cadavers originated, according to Frank Video, Licata's legislative assistant.

While Seattle would allow an exhibit if there were proof of consent from the deceased or their kin, legislation in Hawaii outlaws all commercial cadaver displays. That law passed unanimously last year, according to the bill's sponsor, Hawaii state Rep. Marcus Oshiro.

"People were supportive: Republicans, Democrats, people from rural and urban areas. Everyone," Oshiro said. "It's at best strange and at worst horrible to condone a practice like this in America."

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Seattle's restrictions on body exhibits do not pertain to remains that are more than 100 years old or consist solely of human teeth or hair. Violators will be punished with a $250 fine for each day of exhibition.

Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or cflandro@seattletimes.com

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