Medical examiner to inspect bodies used in new exhibit

A team from the King County Medical Examiner's Office will inspect an exhibit of flayed, dissected human bodies before it opens to the public Saturday.

The physicians will check the condition of the corpses and body parts, all from China, to make sure they don't pose any health risk, said James Apa, spokesman for Public Health — Seattle-King County.

"We received a complaint from a member of the public who is concerned," Apa said. "But we don't have any evidence or reason to believe there's a threat."

"Bodies: The Exhibition" includes 21 whole cadavers and about 250 body parts, ranging from cancer-riddled lungs to male and female reproductive tracts. The specimens are plasticized, using a technique that strips out fluids and replaces them with silicone.

Organizers describe the show as educational — a graphic lesson in human anatomy, body systems and the ravages of smoking, obesity and disease.

Last year, the San Francisco Department of Public Health inspected a similar exhibit mounted by a different organization after some of the bodies leaked fluid. The department concluded there were no health concerns.

The preservation process used on the bodies kills any bacteria or other infectious agents, said Tom Zaller, vice president of Premier Exhibitions, the Atlanta-based company mounting the show.

"Anything that's alive is killed by this process."

Also, any toxic chemicals used in the initial embalming are leached out in the final processing.

Persuading the health department to inspect the exhibit is the only success logged so far by the concerned citizen who called in the complaint: Charlette LeFevre, a director of the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. Located on Capitol Hill, the museum exhibits Big Foot artifacts, organizes walking "ghost tours" and is the home of Seattle's Bruce Lee fan club.

LeFevre has appealed to City Council members, U.S. Customs, former Gov. Gary Locke, Mayor Greg Nickels, local human-rights activists — and anyone else she can think of — to try to get the exhibit blocked.

Most have responded politely, but with no enthusiasm for the cause.

"It's really amazing to me that more people aren't upset," LeFevre said.

Exhibit organizers say the bodies are of people who died from natural causes and were sent to a Chinese medical school after being unclaimed by relatives or friends.

"They say they have documents showing everything is legal, but they won't let the public see them," said LeFevre, who wonders whether some of the bodies may have been political prisoners. "We're all for discovery of the human body, but this is so culturally objectionable it's appalling."

At a media preview Tuesday, Philip Lipson, co-director of the Museum of the Mysteries, mounted a solitary protest outside the exhibit hall, holding a sign that read: "No consent. No dignity. No bodies."

He hopes other activists will join the vigil once the exhibit opens.

"We're working on it," he said. "We don't have any solid commitments yet."

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or

"Bodies: The Exhibition"

When: Opens Saturday and will run for about six months

Where: 800 Pike St., across from the Washington State Convention and Trade Center

Tickets: $24.50 for adults; $16 for children


or 877-263-4375