Saigon exhibition stirs debates for displaying real human organs

By Viet Tuan, Vu Duc Nhat, Phan Anh   July 5, 2018 | 04:00 am PT
Saigon exhibition stirs debates for displaying real human organs
An alleged human body is plastinated and shown in an exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress
Organizers say plastinated organs and fetuses shown were legally donated.

Vietnam government has ordered Ho Chi Minh City's culture department to report on the licensing and organization of an exhibition of human biological specimens including various organs and fetuses which has raised noisy debates.

The "Mystery of Human Body" exhibition at District 1's Youth Cultural House, held from June 21 to December 31, intends to educate people on public health, human anatomy and physiology, said the organizer, event management firm MegaVina.

But the showing of actual human organs has sparked controversy, with some people saying that it was "inappropriate" in the context of local culture. Some spectators said they were scared indeed.

Vietnamese designer Ha Nhat Tien said he felt "frightened" upon getting to a section where fetuses’ vascular systems were displayed. "There was no glass case surrounding them," Tien said.

Tran Khanh Chuong, President of Vietnam’s Art Association, said the display is “distasteful.”

“Vietnamese respect the dead. The display of their organs are inhumane and should not be encouraged,” he said.

However, some visitors were positively impressed, as they said the exhibition opened their mind on the human body.

Le Anh Duy, a HCMC-based pediatrician, said the exhibition did not frighten him at all.

“Scientifically speaking, this is a rare chance for ordinary people to take a close look at real-life human specimens to learn more about them. Even medical students don’t get to see these specimens in such an interactive way like this,” he said.

HCMC resident Nhung Phan said she practically "froze" upon seeing the plastinated fetuses because of how "sacred" they are and they really gave her the inspiration to lead a heathier life. “The exhibition gave me a lot of valuable information.”

Another specimen. Photo by VnExpress.

Another specimen. Photo by VnExpress

MegaVina said that the specimens are from organ donations and legally obtained, and declined to provide more information.

“In cases of voluntary organ donations, there are confidentiality clauses which prevent the donors’ information, such as their identity, nationality or cause of death, from being leaked out,” said a MegaVina representative.

“The fetus specimens were all donated to science, with the consent of their parents,” the representative said.

Vo Trong Nam, Deputy Director of HCMC’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which authorized the opening of this exhibition, said there wasn’t any content within the exhibition that was forbidden by law.

“I just saw the exhibition as one which strives to educate people on how to stay away from diseases, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

However, when asked to comment on the controversy over the use of actual human-derived biological specimens, Nam said that wasn’t possible, because the specimens the department authorized were made of plastic.

“They were all polymer,” he said. His department is supposed to file an explanation report on the event by Tuesday.

Plastination is a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts, first developed by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens in 1977. The method has been the theme of a number of exhibitions around the world, and there has been almost always controversy.

As of Wednesday, over 6,000 people had attended the Saigon exhibition, paying VND200,000 ($9) each. Click here for more photos of the exhibition.

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