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Seize, bury cadavers: lawyer

Human rights activist urges province to use obscure act

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/1/2011 (3115 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Selinger government must decide whether an obscure law allows it to bar the Bodies exhibit from leaving Manitoba and even gives it the power to bury the human specimens.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Health Minister Theresa Oswald, noted Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas said the 1987 Anatomy Act obliges exhibit organizers to seek Oswald's written permission before removing bodies from the province.

The act applies to bodies meant for "anatomical or scientific instruction."

Matas said the legislation normally covers bodies donated to medical schools or scientists and is meant to ensure the cadavers are ultimately buried in a proper and dignified manner.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/1/2011 (3115 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Selinger government must decide whether an obscure law allows it to bar the Bodies exhibit from leaving Manitoba and even gives it the power to bury the human specimens.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Health Minister Theresa Oswald, noted Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas said the 1987 Anatomy Act obliges exhibit organizers to seek Oswald's written permission before removing bodies from the province.

David Matas

David Matas

The act applies to bodies meant for "anatomical or scientific instruction."

Matas said the legislation normally covers bodies donated to medical schools or scientists and is meant to ensure the cadavers are ultimately buried in a proper and dignified manner.

But he believes the act also applies to the human specimens from Bodies...The Exhibition.

"You should deny permission to remove the bodies displayed in Bodies...The Exhibition because the promoters of the exhibit do not have written consent from anyone authorized to give consent for the display of the bodies and are uncertain of their provenance," wrote Matas. "In these circumstances, the bodies should be buried in Manitoba."

A spokesman for Oswald said the province is reviewing the legislation and Matas's request, and will respond as soon as possible.

Bodies... The Exhibition has drawn 100,000 visitors to the former A&B Sound building on Portage Avenue since it opened four months ago. The displays of preserved and dissected cadavers in lifelike poses has also drawn significant criticism from those who say there's no proof the bodies aren't those of Chinese political prisoners or members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is persecuted in China.

The bodies are leased from the Chinese government, and the exhibit's organizers have acknowledged they rely on information from Chinese authorities and can't independently verify the origins of the specimens.

Last fall, a University of Manitoba student group gathered 1,000 signatures on a petition asking city hall to shut the exhibit down before its Jan. 16 close. Matas supported that petition, but city hall said it did not have jurisdiction over the exhibit.

"It wasn't banned, but I think it should stop here," said Matas in an interview Thursday. "There's a reasonable possibility the sourcing of the bodies is improper."

Matas co-authored a report several years ago documenting the widespread and illegal harvesting and sale of organs from imprisoned Falun Gong members and said any specimens the Chinese government provides ought to be suspect.

A call late Thursday to Premier Exhibitions Inc., the Atlanta-based producer of the blockbuster touring show, was not returned.

But Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president of True North Sports & Entertainment, doubts whether the Anatomy Act was ever intended to apply to museum exhibits. And he said the show has opened in cities all over the country, adhering to community standards.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

What is the Anatomy Act?

It governs how unclaimed bodies can be given to the University of Manitoba's medical or dentistry students for anatomical study, what happens if a family member comes forward and how bodies must be buried after they've been studied.

WHAT IT SAYS

"No person shall take or send, or employ, authorize, cause, or permit, any other person to take or send, the body of a dead person obtained by him under this act, or any part thereof, out of the province for anatomical or other scientific instruction or requirements, unless authorized in writing to do so by the minister.

"Upon receipt of a notice under subsection (1), the authority responsible for burial of unclaimed bodies of deceased persons shall take delivery of, and arrange for the proper burial of the body."

WHAT OTHER CITIES DID

New York: Following an ABC News 20/20 investigation, then-state attorney general Andrew Cuomo succeeded in securing a disclaimer on the exhibit saying organizers could not verify the bodies aren't those of Chinese prisoners. Any future exhibits must document the origins of each body, the cause of death and the deceased's consent.

Seattle: Last summer, Seattle city council effectively banned all Bodies-type exhibits that could not produce proof of informed consent from the dead, or from the dead's next of kin.

Pittsburgh: An 11-year employee of the Carnegie Science Center quit to protest the exhibit in 2007 and state politicians considered cutting funding to the museum.

 

 

See text of Matas's letter to Theresa Oswald /A11

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