The exhibit has been banned in the City of Seattle and in the State of Hawaii. In June 2010, Representative Todd Akin, from Missouri, introduced legislation into Congress prohibiting the importation into the U.S. of plastinated human remains from China. In New York, then attorney general Andrew Cuomo required the exhibitors to post a statement that they "cannot independently verify that (the bodies) do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons."
The Manitoba Anatomy Act requires anyone who wants to take a body out of the province for "scientific instruction" to get the permission of the minister of health. Manitoba is the only Canadian province other than Nova Scotia that has legislation prohibiting the removal of bodies out of the province without permission.
David Kilgour and I have concluded, first in a report released in July 2006 and updated in January 2007, and then in a book titled Bloody Harvest released in November 2009, that Falun Gong practitioners have been killed in China in the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold to transplant patients. Falun Gong is a modernized blending of the Chinese exercise, Buddhist and Taoist traditions.
Falun Gong started in China in 1992. The Communist Party and then the government in 1999 banned Falun Gong because its spreading popularity led the party to fear the maintenance of its ideological supremacy. Those who persisted in the practice and refused to recant, even after torture, disappeared into Chinese detention.
Chinese Deputy Health Minister Huang Jiefu in November 2006 said: "Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners." He stated in August 2009 that executed prisoners "are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants."
The reason such sourcing is improper is that consent, even if given, is not truly voluntary in such a coercive setting.
Transplant tourism has been a booming business in China. Hospitals, doctors and prisons have been making huge sums of money from foreigners, selling them organs of prisoners for transplants.
The dispute David Kilgour and I have with the government of China is not over whether prisoners are being killed for their organs, but only over which sorts of prisoners are being killed for their organs.
If Chinese prisoners are the sources of organs for transplants it is plausible, indeed likely, that they are also the sources of bodies for plastination.
If Chinese prisons are eager to make money out of the sale of the organs of prisoners for transplants, they would be equally eager to make money out of plastination of the bodies of prisoners.
In any case, the minister of health should not have to establish that the source of the bodies in the exhibition is improper to deny permission to remove the bodies from the province.
Rather, the exhibitors should be required to establish that the source of the bodies is proper in order to obtain permission to remove the bodies from the province. This they cannot do.
This exhibit has already been on tour in Brazil and eight American cities. Winnipeg is its first Canadian stop.
The issue here is not the display of plastinated bodies but rather the sourcing. There should be no such display without the verifiable consent of the sources.
This exhibit should not have been allowed into Manitoba. Now that it has taken place, Manitoba should prevent the display elsewhere. The only condition under which the minister should allow the bodies to leave is an undertaking from the exhibitors to bury the bodies elsewhere immediately after removal from the province.
Regrettably, the minister has taken the position that the legislation applies only to those who die in Manitoba. Yet, the legislation, by its wording, applies to bodies "found dead" in Manitoba as well as those who died here.
The notion that there is a law-free zone for bodies in Manitoba of persons who die out of Manitoba contradicts the purpose of the legislation. The position of the minister is an abdication of responsibility.
The living must respect the dignity of the dead. Manitoba can and must invoke its own legislation to stop the abuse of the human remains of the poor souls now on display.
David Matas is a Winnipeg author and lawyer with a practice in immigration, refugee and international human rights law.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2011 A16