Aug. 27, 2018

Exhibition of body specimen, curiosity, and the morality

I am not an activist, and really I don’t bother as much what other people opinion is. When the opinion of the group people becomes a public standard, then I’m interested. Opinion, perception, and thought process, maybe not-yet-verified knowledge perhaps. In Vietnam, there was an exhibition (Mystery of Human Body) of the real human body parts that was plastinication developed by Gunther von Hagens (1977). The technique is for preserving body parts by replacing water and fat by plastics making the specimen is not decayed while reserving its appearance. The authority (2018–7–7) has asked to suspend the exhibition because it causes upset and does not suit with Vietnamese culture. The detailed reason of the department of the Culture and Sport, HCMC is to check the material, custom process of the specimen.

Granted, looking at human body is not a faint of heart. I can barely look at the needle punching into my arm for a blood draw. I felt strange and scared when watching YouTube video of dental surgeries. At that time, I wanted to know how the wisdom extraction and implant look like. If one bought a ticket, supposedly, it is not cheap given that the body specimen underwent through a complicated process, and transported from Korea, and it is one of it kind. And after the exhibit, you cannot look at the body parts at the same way, cannot stop thinking about the parts, then the feeling upset, disgusting, and throw-up are normal. I might have the same effects.

Source: internet

One question I would like to ask those who visited the exhibit the reason or motivation to come to exhibition. It is not free, it is indoor, and most of people does not have time to spend in the activity that they are upset about. I would project the curiosity is the one of the main reason. Some may have the need to know a particular parts because unless you are a medical student, there are no chance to see those parts at the level of the exactness.

Curiosity, the power to push and draw people to know about the unknowns is dangerous. If you don’t know how electricity works, your curiosity can hurt you. I tried to touch the two poles of the light bulb adapter when I was 5–6, the feeling was not great. I was scared to electricity, but I would not call the EVN, the electricy provider in Vietnam, to stop generating them because of my stupid curiosity. To be clear, I would like to know how electricity works but my techniques was suicidal. I would prohibit those under my supervision to check the electricity by hands. I would describe what the outcome did I have and the precautions I took. Body parts are closer to our mind than the electricity although they are not that obvious and apparent. After all, our body is like a skin bag containing body parts. We do not have many chance to see them that close. Think about items that is close to you but you cannot see them, and you are even scared to see them. So yes, feeling upset or disgusting is understandable.

There is a big elephant in the room for the upset of the exhibiting body specimen is the Vietnamese culture, sometimes refereed as Orient Culture (Văn hóa Á Đông). When I was in high school, if someone asked me to define the culture, I would be stumble, and maybe spun out some text-book definition like good values from the previous generations. I heard some cited the exhibition is not suited with the Vietnamese culture, some even said the exhibition goes against the traditions and the morality. That is some strong words!

Vietnamese culture, as the way I see it, is dependable to who see it. At this point, I assumed that some eyebrows have been raised. From this exhibition, across the opposition parties, some said the exhibition is helpful for scientific reasons. Some people wanted to know what is inside your body. Here is another segue, how many songs, inspiration talks called you to look inside your heart or even your soul? Well, that exhibition is one of the opportunities to look at the heart when you are in a good condition. And yes, I perceive when the mass media implied when citing Vietnamese cultural values are some good old days standards, norms, expectations from those are more senior and authoritative. I would not called expanding the understanding of how the specimen looks is against the Vietnamese culture because the curiosity and learning is a huge, corner stone parts of the Viet culture.

One valid, but tiny tingling aspect the opposing side is the consent part. Did those people when they were in a good condition consent to use their body parts for public exhibition? That is a fair question. That would require a carefully documented evidence that the organizer holds. Most the consent forms will have some lines suggesting the body parts can be used for the research and scientific discovery. The contention is now lied on the notion that selling ticket is no longer in the realm of research, it is more look like a commercial activity. Well, one way to find out is to look for the financial statement to see what is the revenue is for? Did the ticket revenues is equal to the cost of operations, did the organizers give themselves the dividend from the activity? That is technicality, and really, it is far-fetched for those cited the Vietnam culture to question the organizer’s conducts.

Indirectly to the topic, the relation and perception of Viet people with the death are special. It is even discourages or taboo to discuss about it, can considering those who done so is anathema, it will be another post sometimes. It may be germane to the body specimen. Innately, we both honors the death (who died for for good cause) and scare of the after-life evil spirituality, and prefer to stay way as possible with the remains, and yet we go to the pagoda, to the tombstone ask the pass-way relatives for many things. Interesting!

Originally posted on on July 7, 2018
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