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Letters to the Editor: Nov 14 - 21

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Body of experience

Re: "Bodies: $22" [Oct. 10], you hit the nail right on the head.

I got my medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1990. Now, when studying the human body, you have to keep a certain appreciation of the craziness of it all, for your own mental health. In med school, we used to call the Anatomy Lab "The Museum of Fine Parts." It could disturb one's sleep to be working with pieces of dead people for months on end, if you didn't keep a certain sense of humor about it. But the Bodies exhibit actually crosses over into ghoulishness for a few reasons:

1) It's important to have respect for the person who used to live in that body. After Anatomy, each class of young doctors has a ceremony in the Heinz Chapel to commemorate the lives of those we studied, and to thank them and their families. It's very touching. And I'm sorry, but it's just wrong to have fanciful displays of corpses playing volleyball, or someone's guts stretched out across the room.

2) Most importantly, the corpses here are not Americans. In fact, the whole show lacks a proper American filter of our culture's long history of respect for the dead in medical education. It is out of step with our traditions and values. Worse, the country that provided them has a long and ongoing history of severe human-rights abuses: We have no idea, no affidavits relating to the wishes of those dead individuals or their families. But I'll wager anything they didn't want to be playing volleyball for all eternity.

The argument about educating the public is misdirected here. Yes, everyone deserves to learn about the wonders of the body. The anatomy lab at the medical school has always been off limits to the public. It eventually got a combination lock and then even tighter security over the years after certain "incidents." But instead of finding a respectful and imaginative way of educating, a wide berth is given to this circus sideshow of corpses from China. We can do better. Obviously there is a will.

 

-- John G. Picone, Bangor, Me.

(The writer is a retired surgeon)

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