Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I See Dead People ...

I guess I'm a total wuss. Yesterday Debbie and I decided to go and celebrate our anniversary by looking at dead people. OK, it wasn't really like that. I mean, it was like that. But not really. We went to "Body Worlds 3" at the St. Louis Science Center. I have to tell you. This is some weird stuff.

"Body Worlds" is this traveling exhibit that displays the often split open and always skinned bodies of deceased people. You might just want to sit here for a minute and think about that. Then think about this. We paid $42 to get in. There was probably a funeral somewhere around that we could have attended for free. Might have even copped a free lunch for our efforts. But for us it was "Body Worlds."

It's actually a little more complicated than I made it sound. All of the bodies were donated by the deceased (prior to the deceasing I would assume.) They are put through a process called, "Plastination." Here is what it says directly from the web site...

"I developed the Plastination technique at the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Anatomy in 1977, patented it between 1977 and 1982, and have been continually improving the process ever since.

When, as an anatomy assistant, I saw my first specimen embedded in a polymer block, I wondered why the polymer had been poured around the outside of the specimen as having the polymer within the specimen would stabilize it from the inside out. I could not get this question out of my mind. A few weeks later, I was to prepare a series of slices of human kidneys for a research project. The usual process of embedding the kidneys in paraffin and then cutting them into thin slices seemed like too much wasted effort to me, as I only needed every fiftieth slice. Then one day, I was in the butcher shop in the university town where I was studying, and as I watched the sales woman slice ham, it dawned on me that I ought to be using a meat slicer for cutting kidneys. And so a "rotary blade cutter," as I called it in the project-appropriation request, became my first Plastination investment. I embedded the kidney slices in liquid Plexiglas and used a vacuum to extract the air bubbles that had formed when stirring in the curing agent. As I watched these bubbles, it hit me: It should be possible to infuse a kidney slice with plastic by saturating it with acetone and placing it under a vacuum; the vacuum would then extract the acetone in the form of bubbles, just as it had extracted air before. When I actually tried this, plenty of acetone bubbles emerged, but after an hour the kidney was pitch black and had shrunk. At this point most people would have dismissed the experiment as a failure, and the only reason I went ahead and repeated it a week later using silicone rubber was because my basic knowledge of physical chemistry told me that the blackening effect was due to the index of refraction of the Plexiglas, and that the shrinkage could be attributed to having permeated the specimen too quickly. The next time, I carried out this process more slowly, using three successive silicone baths as a means of preventing a single bath (along with its contents) from curing too quickly. After curing the specimen in a laboratory kiln, I had the first presentable sample of Plastination.

That was on January 10, 1977, the day that I decided to make Plastination the focus of my life."

Gunther von Hagens
Inventor of Plastination"

You go, Gunther. When I am in the butcher shop watching them slice ham all I want to think about is my coming sandwich, not the poor soul on my slab back at home. (NO I do not have a slab. Leave it alone.) Folks, I gotta tell you that this exhibit bothered me. It didn't seem to bother anybody else in the room. School groups (mainly form local high schools) trotted around as though they were checking out the latest assignment at the Art Museum. Debbie was fascinated. Me? Not so much. I did not get queazy. I didn't puke. I just felt ... repulsed. I suppose it's a fair reaction to seeing people displayed like so much rump roast in the fresh meat section of your local grocery store. Or maybe I'm just not curious enough.

I have no qualms at all about people who do autopsies to discover the cause of death. I totally understand the need for bodies to be donated for the purpose of science and finding cures to horrific diseases and to train doctors. I get it. No problem. However, if I had come to this display without a deep faith in God and His purpose, promise, and plans for all men willing to trust Him ... I would have left seriously depressed. This display just might have led me to believe that, as Peggy Lee use to sing (well before my generation) "If that's all there is ... if that's all there is my friend ... then let's keep dancing ... let's break out the booze ... and have ... a ball ... if that's all ... there is."

The bible says that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Body Worlds shows us just how wonderfully made we are. It is amazing to see what God has done with us. But to see somebody stripped of AND HOLDING their own skin ... uh, no thanks. I"m not on a crusade against Body Worlds. If you want to go you have my blessing. Personally I wish I had saved the $42 bucks, plus the $9 to park. The best money I spent was in the gift shop when I got robbed of $11 (there is no prices posted on anything) for a plastic football to give to Elle. Now SHE is a hunk of meat that will hug me back.


Anonymous said...

Ron, you and I are on the same page with this one. The whole concept of the violated human body as art makes me uneasy, even if the "participants" agreed to it ahead of time. There are just some things that should be left sacred. Not a mystery, just sacred.

johnsonfamilyof6 said...

They have this same Body exibit in Branson, my girls refused to even think about going to that, ewwww!

Daniel Dingeldein said...

Cheryl, Alena and I were there on Tuesday also. Here's a tip, if you go to the St. Louis science center gain, park at the planetarium in forest park and walk across the bridge over 40, it's free.