Saturday, March 28, 2009

Markets for (viewing) bodies

Among the oldest repugnant transactions are those that involve dealing with the dead. In the early 1800's, British medical schools illegally purchased cadavers for anatomy classes from grave robbers called "resurrection men," because the only cadavers legally available for dissection were the bodies of executed murderers. (The Harvard Medical School is in Boston rather than Cambridge, I understand, because of an arrangement offered by the city of Boston to supply unclaimed cadavers.) But those constraints have been relaxed over time, and in my 2007 paper Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets, I used as an example the "Bodyworlds" museum shows that tour the world, allowing museum goers to see cadavers (posed as if engaged in lifetime activities) in detail previously available only to medical students (and here is an essay on the value of that experience to medical students: Dead Body of Knowledge).

But while the laws governing the trade in corpses have been relaxed, there remain considerable feelings of repugnance about desecrating corpses, and these museum shows have also aroused opposition. The latest news is that such a show is planned as a travelling exhibit in Israel. Judaism has strong norms about respect for the dead, and it seems likely that there will be considerable controversy: Controversial 'Body Worlds' exhibit based on preserved human bodies scheduled to arrive in Israel next month. Various religious body gearing up for battle against show, arguing it violates the dignity of the dead .

(Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Middle East, the tensions between secular and religious, ancient and modern, is of a very different sort:
Hardline Saudi Clerics Urge TV Ban on Women, Music.
" ''No Saudi women should appear on TV, no matter what the reason,'' the statement said. ''No images of women should appear in Saudi newspapers and magazines.'' ")

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