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Controversial Body Worlds brings dead people to Philly

Those with some extra cash, about two hours and a strong stomach should head to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Franklin Institute.

Body Worlds is a display of over 200 real human specimens that have been preserved through the process of plastination. The exhibit is meant to educate both the medical expert and layperson about how the body functions, by observing individual organs, plastinate slices and carefully positioned full body specimens.

In 1977 German doctor Gunther von Hagens invented the process of preserving actual human tissue by replacing body fluids with liquid reactive plastics that hold their position when hardened by various elements.

“It is my hope that Body Worlds will allow people of all backgrounds to get a better understanding of their bodies and how they function. I want people to get a view of themselves…that they never had before,” von Hagens said in an October 7 press release from the Franklin Institute.

The exhibit forces observers to confront their own humanity. The cross sections and individual organs, which compare healthy versus diseased examples, are informative and much more effective than those middle school health classes that simply show a picture of a smoker’s lung.

The black lung of a smoker, the eroded brain of an Alzheimer’s patient or a uterus with a three-month old baby intact seemed more relevant because they belonged to a very real, very alive human being.

The full body specimens are the most impressive. Their true-to-life poses allow the observers to understand how their own bodies move and function when in motion. The basketball player, the dancing lady and the archer look as if they are about to come to life.

The largest, most jaw-dropping specimen came at the end of the exhibit. There stood a fully plastinated horse, rearing on its two back legs with a rider. The display looks as though the horse could jump off its bed of rocks and go galloping through the museum.

Since Body Worlds is such a unique and graphic display of real humans, it has stirred some controversy. Some question whether it is ethical to show specimens that at one time had breath in their lungs and personalities.

“There is nothing controversial if there is full consent,” Lewis Bird, professor of medical ethics at Eastern University said. Bird said that the educational benefits are important for everyone and “acceptable for mature minds.”

Dennis Wint, CEO of the Franklin Institute, said in the October 7 press release that the exhibit is “an educational opportunity that [until now] has been only available to the medical community.”

At the end of the exhibit are comment notebooks. Those who find their stomachs churning and palms sweating might share the same feelings as one high school student who said, “Educational, yes. Enjoyable, NO.”

The exhibit will remain at the Franklin Institute until April 23, 2006. Count on spending $12.75 on weekday evenings with a student ID, or $21.75 on the weekends (this price will cover admission into all exhibits within the museum).

Driving directions, alternative transportation options and details are listed on their website, www.sln.fi.edu.

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