Following is a joint statement by Kansas City in Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., on an upcoming exhibit at Union Station:
Recently, Union Station in Kansas City announced plans to bring The Cycle of Life exhibit by Body Worlds to Kansas City. The exhibit contains dissected human specimens that have undergone a preservation process known as “plastination.” We are grateful to the leadership of Union Station for sharing with us, in advance, their plans for the upcoming exhibit and we are appreciative of the efforts made by Union Station to explore how Body Worlds obtains the specimens for display. However, there remain ethical concerns about this exhibit that we find troubling.
The Catholic Church supports the pursuit of scientific knowledge and recognizes the value of using human specimens to train doctors and scientists in order to help them treat the sick and support human health. However, the artful public display of posed human remains, while certainly fascinating, calls into question the proper respect being afforded to these human remains. The exhibit amounts to a kind of “human taxidermy” that is inconsistent with the dignity due a deceased human body. As to the educational value, one must ask: Could not the educational value be achieved with models rather than using actual human remains?
While Body Worlds claims that proper informed consent has been obtained and even cites a favorable ethical study, there remain concerns about consent. We are troubled by lingering questions raised by investigative journalists and human rights groups regarding whether proper informed consent has been obtained for all of the bodies and specimens on display here.
The Catholic Tradition supports the pursuit of knowledge, truth, and beauty – and thus we, the local Catholic bishops, appreciate the general work of Union Station in bringing educational opportunities to the Kansas City area. Nonetheless, because of our ethical concerns we do not believe that this exhibit is an appropriate destination for field trips for Catholic schools or youth groups.