Organizer of 'Bodies' Exhibit Offers Refunds

People who paid to see "Bodies: The Exhibition" in New York City can get their money back as the result of a legal deal. Some visitors complained that they didn't know beforehand about the origins of the cadavers used in the exhibit.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In the past, we've reported on a controversy involving bodies. And we're talking about Bodies: The Exhibition to be exact. It's a display of human cadavers which has traveled around the country to great success. But the show also raised some ethical questions. Now there is a legal settlement for people who saw those bodies in New York.

As NPR's Nancy Solomon reports, they can get a refund for their ticket.

NANCY SOLOMON: The New York show is operated by Premier Exhibitions, one of three companies in the U.S. that puts plasticized cadavers on display. The bodies are allegedly unclaimed from Chinese police departments. And the exhibits have been dogged by criticism that consent was never obtained. The Laogai Research Foundation investigates political prisons in China. It wants all bodies acquired without consent to be removed from all exhibits. According to Kirk Donahoe, the group's assistant director.

Mr. KIRK DONAHOE (Laogai Research Foundation): It's a practice which I don't think we would tolerate if the bodies were coming from around communities, and I don't think we should tolerate it anymore if the bodies are coming from China.

SOLOMON: Premiere Exhibitions declined to be interviewed, but released a statement that they're happy with the settlement. And the New York show has drawn record crowds. The company has put aside $50,000 for customer refunds. Dr. Walter Hofman, a medical examiner from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, works for a different body exhibition company and says he's certain there are no legal or ethical problems with putting cadavers on display.

Dr. WALTER HOFMAN (Medical Examiner): If I have an unclaimed body in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I can do with it as I wish. I can give it to a medical school. I can have it buried. Everyone that I know has seen the King Tut exhibit, and where pray tell is the informed consent for that?

SOLOMON: Under the settlement, premiere exhibitions will only purchase future bodies with consent of the deceased. For the cadavers already on display it will put up signs at the exhibition that they can't verify whether or not those bodies came from Chinese prisons.

Nancy Solomon, NPR News, New York.

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