Beyond “Body Worlds”: Ethics and the Public Display of Anatomical Specimens

A lecture by Robert Juette, the second presentation in the Winter 2007 lecture series, Exhibiting Controversy: From Mapplethorpe to “Body Worlds” and Beyond.

“Body Worlds,” an exhibit developed by Gunther von Hagens, scientific director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, displays human bodies that have been flayed, injected with a silicon-like substance and posed running, swimming, fencing and horseback riding. Perhaps because of its morbid content, the exhibition has been a disturbing but popular show everywhere it has been exhibited. Dr. Robert Juette has written and spoken about this exhibition, others like it, and the ethics of publicly displaying human specimens.

In this lecture, Robert Juette will discuss the insufficient and fragmentary nature of European legislation that regulates the treatment of human remains held in collections, museums and public places. Dr. Juette will argue that the creation, preservation, collection and preparation of human remains for the purposes of presentation to professional and public audiences are permissible under law, and that this applies in particular to the communication of biological-medical, cultural, historical or otherwise significant facts. However, it is important that the dignity of the person must be respected at all stages of the creation, storage and presentation of the specimens.

Robert Juette is currently the Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Stuttgart. From 1983 to 1989 he was Associate Professor at the Department of General History of the University of Haifa/Israel. He is a social and medical historian and the author or editor of over 30 books, the most recent a biography of the founder of homoeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). He is the editor of the medico-historical journal Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte and the editor of Hahnemann’s case books. He is a member of the steering committee of the Scientific Board of the German Medical Association and vice-chairman of the board of advisers at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. In 2005, Juette was co-organizer of a symposium on “Law and Ethics of the Historical Display of Human Remains” held at University College, London.