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France

The jury’s in: 'Our Body' exhibition banned in France

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2010-09-17

France's highest court has held up two previous verdicts banning the "Our Body: The Universe Within" exhibition, making France the first country to ban the controversial human body expo.

The highest judicial authority in France has definitively banned the exhibition “Our Body: The Universe Within”, upholding two previous court decisions that raised concerns over the striking expo that showcases actual human body parts, organs and skin.
 
The ruling is significant both because banning exhibitions in France is a rarity, and because it makes France the first country to chase out “Our Body". The exhibition has enjoyed successful runs in the United States and Germany.
 
“Our Body” uses a technique of polymer impregnation, developed by the German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, that precisely preserves human tissues down to the cell level and cancels putrefaction. It has stunned visitors with its detailed display of intertwining human body systems.
 
The exhibition was presented to French audiences, first in Lyon and Marseille in the spring of 2008, then in Paris in February 2009, before running into legal troubles.
 
Body of evidence

Soon after their arrival, the origins of the bodies became a matter of debate in France. Two organisations, “Together against the death penalty” and “Solidarity China”, said they suspected the bodies came from the Chinese prison authority, and not from Hong Kong medical schools, as “Our Body” producer Studio 2 Productions claims.
 
The exposed body parts and organs are so perfectly preserved, the two rights organisations argued, that they must have been delivered just moments after death. Another observation brought forth by the two groups was that the bodies show no evidence of serious pathology that could have caused immediate death.
 
The critics of the expo maintain that the bodies probably belonged to former Chinese death row inmates, around 6,000 of whom are killed each year.

Encore Productions, the local French organiser of the exhibition, was unable to prove – on grounds of medical confidentiality - that the Chinese group that provided the bodies had not procured them from prisons.
 
Appealing… to consumers?
 
After the rights groups presented their case, a Paris judge ordered “Our Body” to be closed in 2009. The exhibition organisers shot back that the ruling had been “ecclesiastically” inspired, based on the judge’s “personal beliefs” and appealed the decision.
 
Ten days later, a Paris court of appeals confirmed the ban, but offered a different reason for its decision: the judge insisted that proof of origins needed to be displayed on exhibits. Encore Productions launched a new appeal.
 
After deliberation, France’s highest appeals court has also sided with the plaintiffs, but on entirely new grounds. According to the presiding judges, the display of corpses for commercial purposes goes against the French civil code, which states: "The remains of the deceased should be treated with respect, dignity and decency."

For Patrice Spinosi, the lawyer for Encore Productions, the decision sets a questionable precedent. “‘Commercial purposes’, is at best a vague term,” Spinosi says. “We will see if any exhibition you have to pay to see can become a candidate for this ban,” he added.

For the winning lawyer, Richard Sedillot, the issue is also far from over. He says he has already been contacted by Canadian and Eastern European organisations that hope to bring similar charges against “Our Body” in their own countries.

 

Date created : 2010-09-17

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