After 'Bodies,' MOSI pursues sequel

A permanent exhibit of cadavers is sought that won't need an okay from a state board.

By JUSTIN GEORGE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2007

TAMPA - "Bodies, the Exhibition," drew such record crowds to the Museum of Science and Industry that officials there want a permanent display of up to five preserved and dissected human cadavers.

They lobbied Sen. Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace, to float SB 728 that would let MOSI and other museums bring plastinated bodies into the state for exhibits or education without the state Anatomical Board's approval.

The bill didn't sit well with Lynn Romrell, state board executive director, who locked horns with MOSI during a publicized dispute over "Bodies" in 2005.

"It's just offensive for people to grab a body, plastinate it and put it on display and charge money," Romrell said. "I can't police it, I can't fight it, but I question the ethics of it."

In 2005, the board, which oversees the state's cadaver donation program, refused to give MOSI its blessing to open the exhibit. The museum didn't have advance written consent from the dead, who came from China, or their families agreeing to the displays.

MOSI countered that the board didn't have the power to stop the exhibit. It opened "Bodies" early and then-Attorney General Charlie Crist didn't intervene. Charlie Crist, who is now governor, and Victor Crist are not related.

MOSI president Wit Ostrenko said the bill would help clarify the Anatomical Board's role. It requires museums to notify the board of their plans at least 30 days ahead of time.

But it does not give the board any say.

Victor Crist said he wrote the bill to help MOSI avoid unneeded government delays.

"I know the people there, and I certainly never would expect them to step over the line," said Crist, who served on the museum governing board. "They're a children's educational venue as well as an adult's educational venue."

Romrell, who conceded that state laws remain murky on cadavers, said the bill continues to skirt an important issue.

"The thing they're not addressing is the source of the bodies," he said. "That remains a huge controversial issue. There is no country that has more human rights violations than China, and there remains a major concern on what is the source of the bodies. No one has addressed it."

If a law is passed, he said, it should make sure that cadavers come from appropriate, verified sources and are released for display. He fears people from Chinese prison camps or executions could wind up as models.

Ostrenko stood by the documentation "Bodies" exhibitor Premier Exhibits of Atlanta provided two years ago: The cadavers used were from unclaimed and unidentified people.

"In this case," he said of the museum's plans, "we would get the same documentation we got before from the most professional laboratory we could get them from, at the best price."

The cadavers would be part of the museum's "Amazing You" exhibit, which will teach visitors about human bodies from conception to death.

Ostrenko hopes to buy the cadavers from the plastinated exhibits traveling worldwide, such as "Bodies." Or, he said, he would contact university or professional laboratories. He could not say how much bodies cost.

Plastination is a method of preservation that drains the body of fat and fluids, replacing them with polymers such as silicone rubber, epoxy and polyester. The flesh does not decay, and maintains its natural look.

At MOSI, the cadavers would go into a secluded room for visitors to look at if they choose, Ostrenko said. The first phase of the $4.5-million, 13,000-square-foot, "Amazing You" exhibit will focus on conception to adolescence and will open Memorial Day. Cadavers, if acquired, would be part of the last phase.

"Bodies, the Exhibition," which ran from August 2005 to September 2006, was MOSI's most successful exhibit, drawing 700,000 people and enough money to pay off MOSI's debts as well as provide $2-million of the cost of "Amazing You."