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Legislation Regulating Controversial Human Body Displays Passes Three House Committee Hurdles

Only the Department of Health - Which Would Permit the Displays - Opposes the Bill
By Jeremiah Rivera, Sydney Morning Herald
March 06, 2009

House Bills 28 and 29, which would regulate commercial dead human body displays, passed the Finance Committee Tuesday. The bills, spurred by the controversy over the “Bodies …The Exhibition” recently hosted at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center will likely make their way to the Senate as early as during next week’s crossover.

The bills, introduced by House Finance Chair Marcus R. Oshiro D-39 (Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Poamoho), faced little opposition as they slid through three committees.

Deputy Director Susan Jackson was the only person to submit opposition on behalf of the State Department of Health, the agency that would be in charge of permitting such displays if the legislation passes.

“The department does not support this measure as written,” Jackson said regarding Bill 29. “Perhaps the Legislature would consider banning such displays out right.”

As it stands, Bill 29 has no financial appropriation to establish a permitting process, and that has the department heads concerned about absorbing new functions during a time when state departments are being asked to cut back.

In previously submitted testimony, the department personnel testified that while they respect what the measure is attempting to accomplish, there is no danger to public health and safety from this type of exhibition.

Public concern, for the most part, centers on the controversy surrounding the origins of the bodies on display. Some argue they are those of unclaimed Chinese prisoners sold for profit to Premier Exhibitions Inc., an Atlanta based company who supplies the plastinated human specimens for exhibit.

Such accusations, however, have not been proved. In recent years the media has reported that Premier can provide a document issued by the Chinese government to verify the origins of their specimens. But critics say that the Chinese Government cannot be trusted.

“Here is a government controlled by the Communist Party that has been depriving people’s rights and violating their bodies. Relying on their documents is an act of irresponsibility for human life,” wrote Hong Jiang a professor for the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in his testimony.

Critics also say Premier representatives have not identified the decedents of those on display and note that no consent was given for the remains to be used for profit.

“Our analysis of Premier’s business practices leads us to believe that there is a distinct possibility that some of the remains on display in its exhibits could be those of executed Chinese prisoners,” Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation Harry Wu wrote in his testimony.

These accusations have hit hard in the Chinese community because of their cultural tenets regarding the afterlife. Many Chinese belief that the desecration of the body may prevent that person’s ascension into the next life, explained Glennon T. Gingo of Holualoa in testimony.

Wu, in his supporting statement, also referred to an independent investigation on the Chinese Government dubbed “Bloody Harvest,” conducted by Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour.

Their report allegedly confirms the Chinese Government’s role in harvesting the organs of prisoners and selling them for profits. Such allegations go as far back as the 1980’s, Wu wrote, concluding: “Until we can be sure that there is no connection, until we are certain about the source and proper consent of the bodies, we cannot support any bodies (for) display and sale. The value and dignity of human life trump any other claims, be it educational or scientific benefits.”

House Bill 29 would prohibit the commercial display of dead human bodies without a permit issued by the Department of Health, while Bill 28 would prohibit the buying and selling of dead human bodies, amend technical definitions and implement heightened penalties.

Both bills passed by House Health and Judiciary Committees and Tuesday passed the Finance Committee with a unanimous vote of 17-0.

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