In an open letter dated 27 August, ALHR and the Bar Association – along with others – have urged the NSW government for an immediate investigation into Real Bodies – The Exhibition, which is currently showing at the Entertainment Quarter in Sydney until October.
The exhibition in question involves a display of 20 plastinated human bodies, as well as 200 plastinated human organs, human foetuses and body parts.
“Mr Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, the company responsible for the exhibition, has publicly admitted that there is no documentation verifying the provenance and identity of the deceased persons, and any certification of the deceased’s consent for display at the exhibition,” said the open letter, signed by Madeleine Bridgett, co-chair of the business and human rights committee at ALHR.
“This raises serious questions about the legal and ethical operation of the exhibition. The bodies have been sourced from the Dalian Hoffen Bio-technique Laboratory in China. On their website, Dalian Hoffen advertise an extensive range of plastinated human corpses and specimens including the corpse of a pregnant woman, any of which can be purchased within six to eight months from the time of ordering. The company also supplies universities, museums and exhibitions in more than 40 countries, however, they do not publicly state the source of the bodies.
"There are grave ethical and human rights concerns about the circumstances surrounding how and where the bodies and organs in the exhibition were sourced. Credible evidence suggests that the exhibits may be the bodies and organs of executed prisoners of conscience including Falun Gong practitioners and Uyghurs, of whom there are currently over a million detained in China. The extrajudicial killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs breaches fundamental human rights laws, and laws governing crimes against humanity, organ trafficking and organ transplant tourism.”
Further, the open letter highlighted that trading in tissue and organ trafficking in Australia are serious modern slavery offences.
“On 6 June 2018, the NSW Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act 2018, which provides for the prohibition of trading in tissue. This provision has extraterritorial effect. Australia’s Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) also provides for offences of organ trafficking,” Ms Bridgett wrote.
“Using human organs and tissues without consent for financial profit is the antithesis of international ethical and legal practice as set out in the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplantation and the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.
“The exhibition organisers have provided no documentation regarding the bodies and specimens on display, and it remains unclear, without this documentation, whether the exhibition has complied with Australia’s laws, and internationally recognised legal and ethical standards regarding the use of organs and specimens.
“In addition, it remains unclear whether the exhibition complies with NSW’s anatomy licensing laws. Despite repeated requests, NSW Health has failed to investigate the exhibition to ensure it complies with NSW Health’s Policy Directive for the Conduct of Anatomical Examinations and Anatomy Licensing in NSW and the Anatomy Act 1977 (NSW). We request that you direct NSW Health to conduct such an investigation,” she urged the Premier.
The open letter concluded with a plead for Ms Berejiklian to promptly call for the investigation to see whether the exhibition complies with Australia’s laws, directives and ethical standards.
“Whilst we have attempted to work with government in a collaborative way to reach a solution to these ongoing ethical and legal concerns about the exhibition, our attempts have been futile. The exhibition remains open until October 2018, and during this time the exhibition may be breaching Australia’s laws,” it read.
“We now call on you as the NSW Premier for an immediate and full investigation into whether holding the exhibition complies with Australia’s laws, directives and ethical standards.”
Emma Ryan is the deputy head of editorial at Momentum Media and editor of its legal publication, Lawyers Weekly.
She graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism).