What was it like walking right up to the dead, dissected bodies? For me, it was not disturbing. The bodies were amazing -- beautiful. You can look into a real human body and see the details of the organs --not bloody and pulsating -- but perfectly preserved. You know nothing about each individual -- who he was, how he died. But there he is, more fully exposed than a nude, for you to walk right up to and inspect. See those testicles, elegantly suspended on long ligaments?
On the walls are cloth hangings each with a single quote from a philosopher or other writer. You contemplate these great thoughts about the human body -- "this quintessence of dust" -- as you make your way around creatively opened-out corpses, perhaps posed as athletes or dancers.
Some of the exhibition is didactic. Take a look at these three sets of lungs, laid out in a glass case: normal, smoker, coal miner. The coal miner's lungs look as if they are made of coal, and the smoker's lungs are nearly as dark. Laid out on a table are vertical slices of two men, one lean and the other obese. The fat man's real body is stuck inside a thick wall of bland, inert material. Kids, don't smoke. Don't get fat.
And what about abortion? Was there a message here too? In a series of small beakers, we see the human embryo at each week of growth in the first trimester. A man and a woman look at the last one in the line. It's less than an inch long, and they are detecting the fingers and eyes. One feels challenged to make a judgment about which of these entities it is acceptable to kill.
The larger unborn bodies are in a separate curtained-off area, behind a sign that assures us that all of them died as a result of disease or accident. In the center of this part of the exhibit is the body of a woman who knew she was unlikely to survive her pregnancy and agreed to be immortalized this way. You can walk right up to her and gaze into her opened womb and see the 5-month-old fetus that died with her.
Arrayed around her are small cases containing fetuses of different ages. As you look at each one, you see into yourself. How do you respond? Do you think there is an interesting potential person? Or is there some age point where you cannot shake the sense of recognition of a fellow human being? Some visitors see that human being in the beaker that is not even shielded in the curtained area. Others gaze coolly on every single unborn body. Perhaps that 20-week-old evokes a primal human instinct to protect that you do not now realize lies within you.
Near the exit is a quote from Seneca:
Death is the release from all pain and complete cessation, beyond which our suffering will not extend. It will return us to that condition of tranquility, which we had enjoyed before we were born. Should anyone mourn the deceased, then he must also mourn the unborn.