There’s no doubt that the Museum of the Human Body is gruesome, but how about ethical? After paying a visit recently we’re not so sure.
Our suspicions were aroused when a student volunteer at this Chulalongkorn University facility told us that the cadavers on display are those of executed Chinese convicts, sourced via Japan. Flabbergasted and, frankly, sickened, we called to confirm, and were brusquely told that no, they’re just from Japan. Now, we’re prepared to give this august educational institution the benefit of the doubt. It may well be that all of the bodies here were donated with the deceased’s consent. However, given the mixed messages, we are left feeling uneasy in light of China’s human rights record – that and the fact that the body plastinisation industry’s alleged grubby dealings with the corpse trade has already been a big story in the West.
Moving awkwardly on, what’s this facility located on the ninth floor of the esteemed university’s Faculty of Dentistry actually like? Well, it’s ghoulish, obviously. Think Hellraiser meets House of Wax and you’re not far off. There are 131 specimens scattered around its two rooms, from organs to artistically posed whole bodies, all of them preserved via the plastination technique invented and patented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the slightly sinister looking, black fedora-donning German pathologist that cynics call Dr. Death for short.
Beware, it’s not for the weak of stomach. While the flesh and body fluids are now just liquid plastic, the anatomical details remain. Nothing is sacrosanct – eyeballs, veins and arteries are splayed out and dissected in all their visceral glory and, thanks to the use of colour pigments, they really do pop.
If we’re sounding a tad down on the Museum of the Human Body, we should point out that its heart (albeit probably made of plastic) does, at least, appear to be in the right place. Unlike Body Worlds, the most successful – and controversial – travelling exhibition of all time, the main purpose here isn’t to get the cash register ching-chinging. Rather, this is first and foremost a place where Chula’s medical students come to further their knowledge of anatomy – a three-dimensional textbook of sorts. Also, in its defence, the students we met treat the cadavers with respect (or maybe fear disguised as respect – this is ghost-swarming Thailand after all), referring to them as ajarn yai, or great teachers.
But back to more macabre matters… what’s the yuckiest thing in here? Well, the blackened lungs are pretty nasty, likely to put even the most hardened smoker off having a chuff as soon as they get outside. There are also unborn fetuses in varying stages of development. However, if there’s one image that’s going to haunt your vomit-filled nightmares, it’s the two inch thick, horizontal body slices arranged top-to-bottom, as if the poor fellow tripped head first through your local deli’s meat slicer… Eewww!
Entry is currently free of charge.
The Museum of the Human Body
Faculty of Dentistry, Chulalongkorn University | 02-218-8635 | Only Wed and Fri from 12:30pm-6:30pm (except national holidays) | dent.chula.ac.th/