tampabay.com

Defiant MOSI unveils 'Bodies'

The museum opens its show early, starting at 9 a.m. today, after the Anatomical Board won't give its approval.

By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published August 18, 2005


TAMPA - ""Bodies, the Exhibition,'' opened at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry at 9 a.m. today, despite a ruling denying approval to the exhibition of preserved human cadavers by the state Anatomical Board.

About 50 people were in line when the museum opened, waiting to see the 20 complete human bodies and numerous other preserved organs. As of Wednesday night, it was unclear whether the Anatomical Board would take any legal action to try to block the exhibition. Just hours after the board refused to sanction the exhibit, MOSI officials announced that the show would open two days early.

"Fortunately for the people of Tampa we are finished early and we are ready to open to the public," promoter Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta had said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

The Anatomical Board, which has statutory oversight of bodies used for medical research and education, took a stand against "Bodies, the Exhibition" during an emergency meeting Wednesday in Gainesville and called on Attorney General Charlie Crist to get behind the ruling.

"We've taken our position," said executive director Lynn J. Romrell, "and now it's up to the attorney general to enforce the law."

But when told of the board's 4-2 vote, Crist said he did not plan to seek an injunction to keep the exhibit from opening. Nor did he expect to take legal action against MOSI or Premier Exhibitions. He said that would be up to the board.

"Our rule on this was to render an opinion as to whether the board has jurisdiction," Crist said. "There's two parties that remain in this at this time: the museum and the board. Either of those two parties can appeal to a court."

However, Crist's office asked the board to provide notes of the discussion that took place before the ruling.

In Tampa, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office also expressed interest. "We'll be reviewing the opinions of the Anatomical Board and Attorney General Crist to determine if there are any potential violations of Florida law," said spokeswoman Pam Bondi.

The board plans to wait for Crist's review before proceeding, a board spokeswoman said.

Last week, Crist said that MOSI and Premier needed the Anatomical Board's approval for the exhibit, which includes 20 fully preserved cadavers and more than 260 organs and body parts.

Crist cited a Florida Statute that says, in part, "Any person, institution or organization that conveys bodies or parts of bodies into or out of the state for medical education or research purposes shall notify the Anatomical Board of such intent and receive approval from the board."

But Brian Wainger, attorney for Premier, maintained Wednesday that the Anatomical Board has no jurisdiction over "Bodies, the Exhibition." He said Florida's law refers to medical education at a medical school, not public education at a museum.

"Now is the time to allow the public to learn the same things that a future, would-be doctor can learn," Wainger told the board before the vote.

Premier has said the bodies belonged to individuals in China who died unidentified and unclaimed.

Late Tuesday, the promoter gave documents to the board that traced the path of the bodies to Dalian Medical University's plastination laboratories. Plastination is the process used to preserve the bodies.

In an affidavit filed in Hillsborough County, Hong Jin Sui, president of the Dalian plastination company, said Chinese police publish three notices in major newspapers to identify the individuals, then wait 30 days before declaring the bodies unclaimed.

Stephen Sugrue, chairman of the Anatomical Board, voted to support the exhibit, as did board member Christopher P. Phelps, chairman of the anatomy department at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Sugrue asked if the panel had previously allowed use of specimens in classrooms to educate students about their bodies. The answer was yes.

Romrell took issue with the comparison.

"I think there's a striking difference from putting a lung on display, as opposed to taking a human body, putting it into a pose that may be dictated by some sport, out on public exhibit," Romrell said.

Sugrue said he has often wished he could put specimens in real-life poses for anatomy classes.

"I don't disagree that this exhibit, for the appropriate audience, would be very useful," Sugrue said. "The question is: Who is the appropriate audience?"

The board had originally challenged MOSI and Premier to provide consent forms from the individuals displayed or from families.

Wednesday, that seemed less of an issue.

"It appears that . . . whatever was done to these bodies in China was appropriate for the government institutions there," said board member Andrew F. Payer, professor and academic administrator at the Florida State University College of Medicine.

"These bodies now are going to be in Florida and under rules and regulations of the state of Florida."

Payer, by conference call, questioned whether the board should allow the exhibit because it doesn't allow public display of cadavers at state university medical labs.

Before the vote, board member Phillip R. Waggoner, of the University of Miami School of Medicine, asked to hear from Premier and MOSI representatives.

Arnie Geller, president and CEO of Premier, asked the board to explain the difference between MOSI's exhibit and an exhibit of mummies. He noted that a King Tut display was scheduled to come to Fort Lauderdale soon. Would those exhibitors have to seek board approval?

The board did not answer directly, but Romrell said, "I think it's an atrocity to disturb graves and take mummies out of the graves. Did King Tut and his family intend for him to be on public display? Not by a stretch."

The panel, which typically works in near anonymity, drew a dozen television cameras and radio reporters, along with newspaper journalists.

Early Wednesday evening, MOSI president Wit Ostrenko, through a spokeswoman, faulted the board for voting against the exhibit without seeing it firsthand.

His e-mailed statement contained the real surprise: the news that "Bodies, the Exhibition" would open ahead of schedule.

Neither MOSI nor Premier officials responded to calls from the St. Petersburg Times seeking an explanation for the change.

-- Staff writers Brady Dennis, Bill Duryea and Candace Rondeaux contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "Bodies, the Exhibition"

WHEN: Opens today at 9 a.m.; scheduled to run through Feb. 26

WHERE: Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa.

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

PRICE: $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors 60 and older and $15.95 for children 2 to 12. Reduced tickets for exhibit available during extended evening hours.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call (813) 987-6000 or 1-800-995-6674.