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Human Body Exhibition: Unethical Actions on Human Remains

Mar 9, 2023 | 0 comments

Mar 9, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


The exhibition websites for human bodies has its disclaimer of the unethical actions on how to acquire human bodies. Notably, bodies are not given at will as most visitors may think that they are Chinese citizen’s human remains or dwellers who were donated to the Chinese Bureau of police. Importantly, the premier is not in a position to proudly declare to the visitors that the bodies being viewed were acquired legally (Bodies the Exhibition, 2014). At the exhibition, full body corpses of human body organs, embryos, and fetuses are displayed. Markedly, the owners of the muscles and internal organs displayed may, however, have faced unfortunate circumstances to end up in the exhibition, since most of them are healthy and young. This means that they did not consent to be found at the exhibitions. For example, a woman who was pregnant would not have wished her unborn to be used as a unique specimen in the exhibitions.

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Undeniably, the Chinese powers say that their prisoners will always remain in the exhibition because the exhibitions do not account on the procedure for acquiring the bodies. Nonetheless, the premier claims that the Chinese partners gave them the authority to acquire the bodies since they cannot independently present their claims that the bodies came from the executed persons as they were incarcerated at the prisons in China (Bodies the exhibition, 2014). Markedly, the reading from the course talked about the importance of upholding the indigenous group dignity by handling the human remains with a lot of respect; nevertheless, this is not the case with the body exhibition. This essay will be a comparison of human remains is differently treated from the indigenous culture as well as the Chinese Culture.

Thesis: Even though the processes for human remains acquisition to the body exhibition remains questionable, majorly the exhibition is taking advantage of the Chinese authority lack of human dignity. Although the exhibition respects the cultural relativism in a similar manner the archeologist respected the indigenous culture, nevertheless, their unethical procedures of acquiring the human remains need to be revised or discouraged early enough in preventing the general degradation of human dignity. Importantly, these changes and considerations can be possible through the exhibition accounting for in a clear and open manner how the donated bodies were acquired at the exhibition entrance.

Indigenous Culture

Human remains conservation is habitually inconsistent with universal code. Notably, first nations individuals have specific spiritual and ethical treatment imperatives of the ancestral remains, and they frequently find that Western culture and heritage management methods of human remains are always disrespectful in regards to the cultural beliefs. Nonetheless, the primary problem is on the “universal code”, which is the order hegemony developed by the western world understanding. This issue has little connection of the thinking of the Aboriginals world, which is believed to have faced colonialism, where the European cultures forced them to leave their heritage practices. Most importantly, the universal code is a representation of the current professional coming in the picture of “rhetoric of benevolence” (Bradford, 2005). According to Nancy White and Brooke Collins-Gearing, the expert knowledge language of concern and care is employed in the appropriation of intellectual and cultural property from indigenous individuals in saving them as well as their heritage from perishing. Thus, this paternalistic approach was derived from colonialism and it is a minority of indigenous culture to protectors of non-indigenous culture that cloaks the misrepresentation and appropriation of cultural possessions as protection (Bradford, 2005).

On the other hand, cultural relativism is entirely accountable during instances of handling human remains in different cultures. In reference to Rachels (2005), cultural relativism is a concept that is used in challenging universal and objective moral truth. In this case, things that are termed as wrong and right are not dealt in a similar manner in different cultures. Indeed, every standard is bound to culture, instead of being judged on the basis of other criteria. For instance, for museum employees, and the professionals working on conservation and heritage, the guiding code for collection, ownership, treatment, and display of indigenous possessions are more problematic than they would have come up with a solution. Thus, under the protection guise, the relationship among the Europeans and the indigenes was masked, as it was the primary determinant of the unfair and appropriation indigenous heritage use without respecting other cultures (Pannell, 1994). As stated by Pannell, in other instances where sacred objects are returned by museums to their owners, nevertheless, this only happens in cases where the indigenous individuals are in a semantic position as the lucky beneficiaries of the benevolence are active agents holding the objects.

Remarkably, there are different cases in which indigenous culture was used in retrieving the remains of their ancestors. Burke and Smith (2003), differentiated the spirit and the ethical code substance. According to them, ethical codes are mainly the suggestive guidelines used by professionals during field follow-ups. The codes give values sets in prioritization when professionals are subjected to ethical dilemmas. Besides, ethical codes are spirit provisions employed in working through ethical dilemmas. Particularly, a spirit can be explained in action by their efforts in resolving ethical challenges. Hence, every ethical code is often in flux, since it is used in the reflection of regional professional needs during the time of code development. Conversely, there exist ethical codes precise to indigenous heritage culture. This specification brings out the protection and recognition importance of culture to be used to the good of the indigenous natives. For example, the Kow Swamp and Lady Mungo excavation were used in addressing the international standard problems and ethical practices. For a fact, the ethical dilemma was witnessed in returning the material of Kow Swamp, because some of them came from international standards. Consequently, the entire humanity suffered from cultural heritage loss. Therefore, this kind of cherishing remains of archeology may have an ethnocentric view from the Western World, whereby the Aboriginal people have contributed to it. As a consequence, the Kow Swamp indigenous stewardship is crucial to the wellbeing and health of indigenous people in the future generation.

Additionally, the lady Mungo remains possessed archeological importance, nonetheless, since it contained cultural importance to the indigenous people, its remains were reburied and returned. The remains were made accessible by coming generation for investigation, which needed two different keys in opening the remains safe that were kept by the archeological society and the indigenous society. As a result, the mutual respect practice hopes in building future projects trusting foundation in togetherness.

Markedly, the debate on displaying and treating human remains contains cultural practices close alliances in handling the deceased. These practices should also be used in human remains identified as a contentious property, particularly, in cultural taboos terms. Generally, with reference of the public, ethical uneasiness as stated by Gunther Von Hagen’s Worlds exhibit body (2009) as well as the controversy in ethics that was surrounding the exhibition lead the debate to a sharp emphasis. The exhibits ethical concerns had a different path from early human remains, although the varying ethics human response to the exhibition shows that there are common ethical problems in displaying and treating human remains.

Markedly, ownership is the correct way of possessing anything regardless of it is intellectual property, estate, land, or an object. Hence, in a similar way, indigenous properties ownership has many issues than solutions. Pannell asserts that museums habitually depict post-colonial and colonial images in various cultures in showing their artifacts. This form of displaying artifacts has a western construction of imagining other cultures since it is not primarily all about indigenous heritage representation. Under this protection guise behind a reflective glass, there is a laid relationship between Europeans and natives. Hence, it is unfair to employ indigenous heritage without respecting other cultures.

The Thunderbird Case (Hillman, 1995).

According to the Thunderbird Case, the global village four section handles their intellectual belongings differently. Undeniably, the first world handles its intellectual possessions like a commercial product that was created by the creator. Moreover, the Fourth World terms the spirit and the soul of individuals as the intellectual property. Considerably, the international standard in handling property incorporates the property rights understanding as it is in the first world. This develops unethical and vulnerable treatment regarding the First World, for instance, the UNESCO has copyright collectives of the Fourth World. Generally, the first world involves pragmatic ways of simplifying all property kinds’ treatment, which leads to Fourth and Third World legal indoctrination of communities.

Indeed, the fourth world keeps collective properties whereby their cultural enlightens is not easily controlled to fitting the designed commercial transaction of the First World. For instance, their heritage of culture is often passed orally, in a social genetic compared to being passed from one generation to the next. Hence, this brings difficulty in claiming its creator origin distinguishing the property owner. Significantly, the knowledge of the traditional environment is regarded in shared meaning and knowledge. However, the Fourth World is in a way animistic in viewing the natural world as being spirit infused. Nonetheless, it is hard to translate this kind of meaningful and sacred commodity product. The Fourth World social knowledge system is not absorbed into the material format, thus, an icon, a story or a song is not possessed by a person, but by the whole society.

This perception difference in intellectual property has challenges in regards to the Fourth World. This is the case with the businessmen privatization of the Japanese based on the cultural heritage of the Fourth World. The businessmen incorporated the thunderbird motif to their sweaters. This made them unable to raise millions of dollars, whereby no profit was enjoyed by the people of the Fourth World. Consequently, they took a public domain cultural image so the people of the tribe had no mandate of appearing in the court in seeking compensation and damages (Hillman, 1995).

Noteworthy, intellectual and cultural property of indigenous societies is always a target for misuse without suitable compensation. The exploitation happens because of the existence of an understanding gap of property between the Fourth and First World. The concept of the First World property possession derived from the contractarians of Hobbesian and Kymlick gives a deeper explanation of property ownership, whereby the understanding of Hobbe is majorly on an individual’s bargaining power. In case a person does not possess a similar physical amount of property possession as other individuals, the person is not qualified for making a social contract (Kymlicka, 1993). Hence, a vulnerable person is later enslaved or killed by others. This theory does not recognize natural moral status and any equality rights among individual suggests earlier physical equality of them. Those subjected to susceptible social status who is physically handicapped are not entitled to have any inherent rights. The ethical theory from the west has been developed to involve Kantian contractarianism valuing moral obligation. This theory care for every individual despite having physical deformities because of every individual matter equally and a person has a promotion responsibility just like institutions. Nonetheless, the nature state tries to show moral equality; in this case, everyone must be treated equally as a natural right.

Most importantly, the understanding of the first world of the rights pre-supposes equality amongst two people. As depicted by Phelan, the basic treatment of copyrights involves the copyright law of America, where its rights of property give the maker a transitory exploitation prevention monopoly of the creation by other people. In case the creator makes a decision of publishing or publicly showing their work, a copyright notice must be given. Once the work is put on the public domain, there is no way of copyrighting. Significantly, intellectual property protection has various values set from the culture of non-western.

Therefore, human remains propertization degrades value where human dignity is affected. In the case of Lake Mungo and Kow Swamp, nonetheless, the indigenous human wellness was respected, where the Archeologist kept the ethic that led to communal strength. Nevertheless, the Chinese exhibition of the body did opposite of the archeologists, where they showed the bodies of political prisoners at the exhibit without a suitable consent. The Chinese authority, in a manner, was capable of instilling fear on the Chinese citizens, such that anyone who dared to oppose would be shown on the exhibit in a different way. Regarding body exhibit, the Chinese unethical practice revealed that human dignity can be simply exchanged for a negligible price.

For a fact, money cannot be used in buying human dignity as written by Sandel in the book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market. Considering that we live in a world that everything is subject to buying and selling, it is vital to maintaining track of items not for sale because In nature markets corrupt the secrecy (Sandel, 2013). As stated by Sandel, when we make a choice that various goods can be sold and bought, we do it implicitly, allowing them to be treated as instruments or commodities for use and profit. Nevertheless, all goods are not valued properly this way. for that reason, human dignity is a virtue that calls for caution in handling. For example, the Kow Swamp and Lady Mungo treatment is an example of how well human remains need to be handled, as well the Chinese Body exhibits is not a good example (Sandel, 2013).

Optimal forms of human remain treatment in cultural heritage. The Coffee Fair Trade

The Stewardship Practice

Heritage management and preservation in regards to stewardship shows non-maleficence and beneficence as basic ethical imperatives in preventing harm and benefiting anything material making cultural heritage of the people. According to Lowenthal argument stewardship is a characteristic task overburdened by the ideological, political, and social today’s world current. He argues that stewardship is watched by heritage consciousness that is academic, elite and scientific. For Lowenthal, no public generalization is employed in stewardship venture since the public is composed of sub-cultural and indigenous conflict. These divisions affect professional ethics; consequently, stewardship is difficult for professional heritage to incorporate if they have a wide public idea (Lowenthal, 2000).

Lowenthal gives suggestions that heritage practice in stewardship requires close connection maintenance in daily life and a common familiarity with all procedures making and shaping the people. This can be considered as a universal absolute refusal in human flourishing cultural preconditions that need groups and individuals to recognize particular and universal.

Overall, it is the citizen’s responsibility of holding the world justice not the body exhibit’s duty and the exhibition visitors should be used as moral agents in deterring body exhibit from their unethical practices support. As suggested by Kok-Chor Tan in regards to the global justice duties, encompasses can work at a fundamental level that it is justified by the aims of humanitarians. Instead of attending to obligations of Rawls standards of distribution, the responsibilities can be understood by critical and careful standards assessments in evaluating and correcting the global institutions’ distributive aspects. According to Tan, global ethics involves interactional focus and global justice employs an institutional emphasis. Thus, there must be an external drive towards the exhibition of the human body in acquiring human remains through ethical ways (Tan, 2004).


Bodies the exhibition disclaimer http://www.premierexhibitions.com/exhibitions/4/4/bodies-exhibition/bodies-exhibition-disclaimer.

Clare Bradford quoted in Brooke Collins-Gearing and Nancy White. (2005). “The rhetoric of benevolence as an impediment to the protection of indigenous cultural rights: A Study of Australian Literature and Law,” Journal of Australian Studies 29, no. 85 .57, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14443050509388016.

Gunther V. H. (2009). Body Worlds: The original exhibition of real human bodies toured parts of the world.

Hillman Chartrand, H. (1995). “Intellectual Property in the Global Village.” Government information in Canada/information government is at Canada 1, no. 4.1 1–12.

Kymlicka, W. (1993). “The social contract tradition.” In a companion to ethics, edited by Peter Singer, 186–96. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lowenthal, D. (2000). “Stewarding the past in a perplexing present.” In values and heritage conservation: research report, 18–25. Los Angeles: Getty Trust.

Pannell S (1994), “Mabo and Museums: ‘The indigenous (Re) appropriation of indigenous things,'” Oceania 65, no. 1: 18, http://0search.proquest.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/docview/1299169740?accountid=8408.

Phelan, Marilyn E (1982). “Rights of artists in their works.” In museums and the law, 83–93. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History.

Rachels, J. (2005) “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism.” In philosophical problems: An annotated anthology, edited by Laurence Bonjour and Ann Baker, 546–54. Montreal: Pearson.

Sandel, M (2013) What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Smith, Claire, & Heather B. (2003). “In the Spirit of the Code.” In ethical issues in archaeology, edited by Larry Zimmerman, Karen Vitelli, and Julie Hollowell-Zimmer, 177–97. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. Reproduced with permission.

Tan, Kok. (2004). Diversity and Global Justice. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.———. Justice Without Borders: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Patriotism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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