Another exhibition of preserved cadavers is headed for the Twin Cities, this one trailing a history of controversy and questions about the source of the bodies.
Tickets are now on sale for "Bodies ... the Exhibition," which begins a five-month run at the Mall of America starting Aug. 8.
The exhibit is similar to, though wholly independent from, "Body Worlds," a display of plastic-infused cadavers that in 2006 became the most popular exhibit in the history of the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Producers of both shows have long been dogged by questions about the source of the bodies they display, in particular whether the bodies, most of them of Chinese men and women, were donated legally and ethically.
Mall of America officials "are comfortable with [the company's] reputation and what they've said they've done" to confirm the source of the cadavers, said Maureen Bausch, the mall's executive vice president for business development. "We use reputable companies and check all of their credentials," she said, adding that Premier Exhibitions, Inc., producer of the show, has "a stellar reputation."
Bausch said the mall has not received any complaints about the show.
But in at least two cases, the Atlanta company has not been able to confirm the source of the bodies it displays.
In particular, Premier officials acknowledged they could not confirm whether people willingly donated their remains for shows last year in New York and Kansas City.
In a settlement with the New York attorney general, the company stated, "Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons."
Earlier, company officials had denied allegations made to ABC News by a Chinese source last year that they obtained cadavers through a black market in Chinese bodies, which could have included executed prisoners. That report prompted the New York attorney general's investigation.
According to Premier, "all of the bodies were obtained through the Dalian Medical University Plastination Laboratories" in China. Plastination is a process, originated in the 1970s by the founder of the "Body Worlds" shows, for preserving bodies.
On its website, Premier says, "Human specimens in medical schools in China, the United States and other countries are donated or unidentified bodies."
Roy Glover, Premier's medical director, said that the company relies on the university official who obtains the bodies and that "we have the utmost trust in his integrity, that he's responsibly obtaining bodies for us. ... We do not obtain the bodies ourselves."
Glover added that it "would be suicidal -- maybe I shouldn't use that word -- it would be not very smart for us to curate an exhibit in which the bodies were not obtained legally and ethically."
Company officials have come to expect questions about how bodies are obtained "and we don't hide from them," he said. "We answer them as forthwith as we can, and whether people choose to believe us or not is up to them."
While tens of millions of people have flocked to the cadaver exhibits, some human rights activists have attacked them as grotesque freak shows that may be using the bodies of mentally ill people and executed prisoners.
When such concerns were raised before the Science Museum opened "Body Worlds" in 2006, museum officials dispatched an attorney to check the death certificates against the documentation that showed the bodies were voluntarily donated.
The controversy re-ignited last year in Kansas City, when Premier mounted a show there. Donor consent forms linked to bodies in the exhibit were found not to be authentic, the Kansas City Star reported. But local officials said they remained confident the bodies were donated properly.
Announcing the settlement in New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the "grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China. Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals."
In the settlement, the company stated that it "relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that [bodies] do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons."
Members of Congress tried last year to prohibit importing "plastinated human remains." The bill, co-sponsored by Minnesota Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline, died in committee.
Attesting to the fact that cadaver exhibits have become a flashpoint of dispute, Hawaii last month prohibited the sale or display of dead human bodies. It was passed in the wake of a show staged there last year by Premier Exhibitions. Legislatures in other states have considered similar bans.
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184