Are Human Organs as 'Artwork' in Bad Taste?

A Tel Aviv show where human organs are on display may not be illegal, but is in very poor taste, a court petition says.

David Lev ,

High Court of Justice
High Court of Justice
Israel news photo: Israeli Government Photo

A petition was filed with the High Court on Wednesday against an exhibition in Tel Aviv where human bodies are “exposed,” allowing viewers to see their inner workings. The show, called “Bodies,” displays body parts as works of art, and shows models with the insides of their bodies open, displaying their inner organs, blood system, musculature, and so on.

Besides the models, actual body parts are on display, with over 200 organs available for viewing. The purpose of the display is educational, organizers said; for example, there are displays of healthy organs and unhealthy organs, such as lungs, showing viewers what could happen to them if they smoke. The body parts were harvested from volunteers who donated their bodies to science, organizers said. The organs are stored in polymer casings, which ensure that they retain their moisture and appearance.

While not illegal, a petition to the High Court filed by Tel Aviv attorney David Schoenberg said, the show is in very poor taste, and should be shut down immediately, instead of being allowed to run through August 31, as the gallery where the show is being held plans. The petition calls on the State Attorney, the Police Commander, and the Deputy Health Minister to immediately intervene and close down the exhibition.

At a hearing, the state argued that there was no room for officials to intercede, because no laws are being broken. Schoenberg, in his petition, said that the show violated Basic Laws on the importance of human dignity, and should be banned.

After reviewing material from the show, the judges – Edna Arbel, Hanan Meltzer, and Uri Shoham – unanimously declared that they were very uncomfortable with the show. “It appears that the show is misusing human bodies, and this has serious moral and social repercussions,” they wrote. Nevertheless, they did not ban the show, saying that they wanted to hear arguments from the show's organizers (who were not represented in the current hearing) before making a final decision.