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Willing donors gave bodies to Union Station exhibit, says official

Wed. February 20, 2008; Posted: 08:24 AM
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Feb 17, 2008 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- PRXI | news | PowerRating | PR Charts -- A Union Station official said Saturday that he is comfortable with assurances from Premier Exhibitions that the specimens in the upcoming "Bodies Revealed" exhibit are from willing donors.

The company was the subject of an ABC News report Friday night that said some of the human bodies in its many traveling exhibits may be those of condemned Chinese prisoners.

Atlanta-based Premier denies the allegations and says all of its bodies were either unclaimed or willingly donated to medical schools and all were legally obtained.

Union Station's exhibit, which opens Feb. 29, apparently was not the subject of the report on "20/20."

Union Station CEO Andi Udris said Saturday that the ABC report focused on "Bodies: The Exhibition," a separate show also produced by Premier. The company says that "Bodies: The Exhibition" is composed of unclaimed bodies but that "Bodies Revealed" is made up of people who signed donor forms before dying of natural causes.

"I have no reason to believe these people (in "Bodies Revealed") didn't willingly donate their bodies," Udris said. "It happens every day."

But anticipating a meeting with local Catholic officials -- and before the ABC report -- Udris already had decided he wanted a greater comfort level.

"I went back to my people and said, 'OK, what we need here is some additional evidence,' " Udris said. "And what they have provided us is the donation form, in English, explaining this is what these people supposedly signed off on. What they have not revealed to us is the actual copy signed by the person."

Udris isn't sure Union Station can demand that information.

Roy Glover, chief medical adviser for Premier, has previously told The Star that privacy considerations prevent the company from identifying the donors.

The donation form provided to Union Station by Premier contains this clause: "I further understand that my identity ... shall remain anonymous and identification of my body, tissues or parts shall be coded to ensure this confidentiality."

Premier spokeswoman Katherine Morgenstern said that all the specimens in "Bodies Revealed" come from the Beijing Medical University life sciences program. Union Station says it was told the bodies then were processed by the Nanjing Suyi Plastination Laboratories in Nanjing, China.

The focus of the ABC report was Dalian, China. Premier says it obtains the specimens in "Bodies: The Exhibition" from a university there. ABC reported the bodies actually come from a company that operates out of a warehouse. An informant told ABC that many of the bodies were those of executed prisoners. Premier issued a statement shortly before the broadcast that said "these sensational allegations are without any factual merit."

Glover visited Kansas City in October when Union Station announced "Bodies Revealed." He was asked by The Star specifically about concerns raised by human rights groups that the bodies may be those of prisoners, political or otherwise.

"The individuals died of natural causes," said Glover, a professor emeritus of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Michigan. "They had made the decision to donate their bodies to a medical school after their death, and so what happens in China is exactly what happens in the United States when a person donates their body. ... And the medical school is legally obligated to use it for an educational or research purpose."

In its statement, Premier said its team of medical experts examines every specimen "to ensure that they do not bear any evidence consistent with trauma, serious bodily injury, execution or torture."

The archbishop of Cincinnati, where another version of "Bodies: The Exhibition" is showing, said Catholic schools there will not take field trips to the display because those bodies were not willingly donated.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh last year approved of "Bodies: The Exhibition," saying the educational benefits were clear.

Union Station officials are trying to arrange meetings with the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to explain to them the difference between "Bodies Revealed" and "Bodies: The Exhibition."


@ To see a copy of the form that Premier Exhibitions says donors filled out, go to KansasCity.com.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4905 or send e-mail to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

To see more of The Kansas City Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kansascity.com. Copyright (c) 2008, The Kansas City Star, Mo. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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