At what point does a body stop being a the remains of a person, to be treated with respect, and become an artefact for display in a museum?

(48 Posts)
ProudNeathGirl Sat 22-Sep-12 23:23:39

I met the man who led the dig to find Richard III today and it got me thinking.
How long after death is it OK to dig up a skeleton for research, and possible display in a museum?
I'd hate to think that in a thousand years from now I'd be lying in a glass case somewhere.
I always feel sorry for people who's skeletons are dug up from wherever they were lovingly buried so that archeologists can poke them about in a lab.

Sparklingbrook Mon 24-Sep-12 20:01:58

I don't want to be in a glass box. sad

Japple Mon 24-Sep-12 15:38:34

...Now,"Sparkle". You're one with some Respect for others.I like that.

CachuHwch Mon 24-Sep-12 13:22:38

Interesting thread.

I think that bodies in museums are shown far more respect than bodies in a cemetary, personally. Seeing a skeleton in a glass box makes you wonder about that person: the life they lead, what character they had. In a cemetary, you can have hundreds of gravestones: You don't have that personal connection with every single person laid to rest there.
I have seen the Red Lady of Paviland Cave (who was actually a man!) in The National Museum of Wales a few times now, and it always has someone leaning over it, wondering about that person.
I would be very touched if I could have that amount of respect, centuries after my death.

Appreciate everyone is different, though. I wonder if religion has a lot to do with how people feel about this?

Sparklingbrook Mon 24-Sep-12 13:17:27

For me, it's the thought that people are lovingly arranged in their coffins, sometimes in their favourite oufit, and with letters and messages, teddies and other personal things. They have a ceremony. The thought that they may be dug up at some point for whatever reasons doesn't seem right.

ProudNeathGirl Mon 24-Sep-12 13:10:54

IMO - it's not so much what I want for my own body after death, or for the bodies of my family. I'm not particularly religious and wouldn't mind being used for research. But in cases where skeletons have been taken out of what are obviously lovingly prepared graves, where they were supposed to lie for all eternity - I think they should be left where they were.

MrsCampbellBlack Sun 23-Sep-12 16:13:12

There was an interesting programme about this on r4 last week here that touches on this subject towards the end.

chibi Sun 23-Sep-12 16:03:44

if it really doesn't matter what happens to bodies after death, why have laws requiring consent for organ donation then (or opt out clauses)? why have any rules about where human remains can be disposed of? i don't know any cultures that agree with you xenia.

Xenia Sun 23-Sep-12 15:57:57

In my view you are either an atheist in which case as the person if not there it matters not a jot what are done to the bones the day after death evern or you believe in God in which case the soul has left the body and God couldn;t care less what you did with the remains.

chibi Sun 23-Sep-12 15:00:26

there have been cases of nations petitioning to have the bones of ancestors returned to them, only to be refused becaused the bones are of scientific interest.

gross.

edam Sun 23-Sep-12 14:58:56

Yes, his stuff is disturbing and I'd like to know more about what the subjects actually consented to.

WilfSell Sun 23-Sep-12 14:57:10

In an ideal world, I'd say that point is 'when the person has meaningfully consented' and I do generally believe that ones body should remain determined by decisions the living person made over it, even in death. But there are cases where that is just not possible, so relatives, ancestors, ethnic community etc should have a say. Though chibi's point is a bit direct, she/he does have a point, and decisions should be culturally sensitive. In the West, where we don't have much of a notion of 'ancestors' only an individual 'soul' idea, then the decision is much more individualised...

I think the von Hagens stuff is much more alarming though than digging up archaeology. Even though they have alleged to have consented (what - the horse? the foetus? the families?). I'm still not convinced they are real bodies actually and he's made a shedload of money from a big RUSE...

edam Sun 23-Sep-12 14:52:51

Chibi's got a point about the past, though I'd hope that doesn't apply today. But in the 'it's OK to display them in public' bracket it's not just ethnic minorities or foreigners - it's also anyone considered 'lesser' by scientists or doctors in those days, including the disabled or poor.

What bollocks chibi!

My ds1 has requested that his body to donated to cerebral palsy research. My body will be just a body and they can do what they like after I'm dead.

chibi Sun 23-Sep-12 12:13:17

it is ok if they aren't white, and/oor european. then it is archaeology.

if they are white, and/or european, it is grave robbing or desecration

Hth

Japple Sun 23-Sep-12 12:11:12

Father used to take me to the Smithsonian when I was a young girl.Dead people
and body parts in jars,everywhere.I also learned that my own people were ware
Housed there.That made me angry,as I know how sacred their buriels are.I'm
not certain if our "Sandcreek Massacre" children,men and women are displayed
There,I hope not.Smithsonian had their poor bodies for awhile.I am against
disturbing the departed.A Pox on the heads of of those who dessacrate and
Display these once-loved people.

I studied archaeology at university and have an MSc in osteoarchaeology (the study of human remains). From what I can recall there is no definitive cut-off point as to when a burial becomes archaeology rather than recent history.

Fwiw the study of human remains tells us a lot about previous societies - from their diet to their clothing, religious beliefs, health, wealth... It wouldn't bother me in the slightest to be dug up and analysed, and it wouldn't upset me to have my grandparents dug up and examined either. Dead is dead, it's not the person you loved whatever your views are on the afterlife.

edam Sun 23-Sep-12 11:11:17

I'm not sure how useful my bits will be, given I have a medical condition and smoke. Hopefully I'd have given up smoking decades before I die so maybe my lungs will be OK...

THETrills Sun 23-Sep-12 11:06:59

Then again my plan is to (depending on how I die) have all the useful bits donated to someone who can make use of them.

THETrills Sun 23-Sep-12 11:06:03

If I'm dead I really won't care if I am being used for educational or research purposes or if I'm lying in the ground.

BloooCowWonders Sun 23-Sep-12 11:05:44

I feel just the opposite! Id love to be dug up a few hundred years after I'm buried - they'd be able to say yes, she lived a full life, had x children, could have looked after her teeth a but better etc! It's just a body - not ME at all. That's why I'm not going to be cremated.

THETrills Sun 23-Sep-12 11:04:53

Is it not possible to display a body in a museum in a respectful manner?

edam Sun 23-Sep-12 10:57:24

Personally I'd carry on using it if it really, really, really can't be identified. I wouldn't leave it to the sort of arrogant people like that original doctor at Alder Hey to decide that. But Alder Hey got unlucky to be the first place the practice of keeping organs from dead babies without bothering to tell anyone was discovered - lots of other hospitals were doing it as well. Probably all of them.

Wouldn't bother me personally if my body parts ended up in a jar in a medical school. I'd be vaguely pleased I was of some use. My Mum was always going to leave her body to medical science until she realised they give the bits they don't use back to the family so you still have to shell out for a funeral. grin But a grieving parent of a baby is entitled to feel very differently about that. My personal views about my own remains aren't a basis for making rules about everybody. (Sorry for the awful pun!)

I've been in a training operating theatre where they were using corpses to train doctors in a new surgical technique. Bizarre. Especially as it was one-armed torsos. They looked like they were doing Saturday Night Fever - one arm in the air (docs were learning how to do a procedure where you go in via the neck, IIRC).

sausagerolemodel Sun 23-Sep-12 00:13:40

**meant to add, debate ongoing about the idea that, if they destroy an anonymous sample that could otherwise be used for research or study, and it can't be identified anyway, who does it benefit? So do you destroy the tissue? Lock it away? (the same practical outcome) or just carry on using it for students as it was before, in which case what was the point of the Act?

sausagerolemodel Sun 23-Sep-12 00:07:47

I was working in Edinburgh University Anatomy Museum recently and it's full of people parts in jars. There is also a whole body in slices on the wall, and a preserved corpse from around 1800 iirc which had been a dissection subject. After Alder Hey there was a change in the law to protect desecration (in this case by removal of organs) of a body without explicit permission. However this left all the medical schools scratching their heads as they all had jars with bits in going back for years (often centuries), usually with no identity and almost certainly with no paper trail proving consent. The govt decided to pick 1970 as an arbitrary cut off date saying that specimens from before this were considered "historic" (and ok to keep) but anything from after then without specific consent would have be considered unusable (although it was never made clear what they should actually do with these sensitive unuseable samples** ). I don't know how it relates to really old remains though but there does seem to be a code of ethics for archeologists www.worldarchaeologicalcongress.org/site/about_ethi.php#code3

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