January 10, 2006

Woman Offers Her Dead Body for Display

By Kamakshi Tandon

TORONTO -- A Toronto woman, not content with having merely a dusty demise, has become the first Canadian to donate her body for public display after she dies.

The 30-year-old mutual fund worker said the "Body Worlds" exhibition at the Ontario Science Center, which displays real human bodies, would fulfill her desire to have a posthumous purpose.

"I wanted to donate my body to science, but do something a little bit different, so this was perfect," said Stephanie Chapu, citing the educational value of the exhibits.

"Being buried or cremated -- why get rid of your body that way when you can do something else and be useful?"

Chapu said community reaction has been mixed, with friends and family mostly supportive, though some have raised religious or moral objections.

"They have the right to think that, but they should also respect my decision," she said. "I understand it's not for everybody."

More than 16 million people worldwide have viewed the traveling exhibition, organized by the German Institute for Plastination, which houses more than 6,000 donated cadavers, a spokeswoman said.

The exhibits are preserved through plastination, a technique where water and fat in the soft tissue are replaced with plastic polymers.

Whole body specimens are displayed, which reveal bones, muscle, tendons, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Among the exhibits are embryos, fetuses and a pregnant woman who died with her fetus in her womb.

"I like that you can finally see what we look like on the inside in a very tasteful manner. I don't think it's disrespectful at all to the donors," said Chapu.

The exhibition has stirred controversy in the past, with German media alleging some of the bodies were those of Chinese execution victims. The organizers have denied the reports.