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Dr. Mary Faith Marshall is a professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota.

We are featuring Dr. Mary Faith Marshall as part of the Science Museum of Minnesota's exhibition of BODY WORLDS
I think the BODY WORLDS exhibit has wonderful educational potential for the general public.

She teaches, writes, and runs a consultation service at the university's Center for Bioethics, where the mission is to educate about ethical issues in health care and the life sciences. She's the director of the Center for Medical Humanities at the university's medical school. And Marshall's broad expertise made her a natural choice for the Science Museum's BODY WORLDS advisory committee.

What's right?  What's wrong?  Who gets to decide?

It's all about consent

Marshall says, "I think that body donation for exhibition purposes is ethical-just as it is for clinical education and organ transplant purposes-as long as the criteria for primary informed consent are met."

What are those criteria?

  1. The donor must be a capable decision maker and give explicit consent for her/his body to be used in the exhibition.
  2. There must be no coercion or undue pressure involved. (This is what ethicists call "voluntariness.")
  3. And, as Paul Wojda and Dr. May Yeu Heu [first and second in this "Scientist on the Spot" series] have said, the bodies must be treated respectfully.

"I wouldn't donate my body to the exhibit-not because of any objection, but because I would rather donate my organs for transplantation and/or my body for use in the anatomy lab."

Dr. Marshall's perspective on Body Worlds

BODY WORLDS plastinate

"I think that the exhibit is wonderful, primarily as a vehicle for educating the general public about anatomy, their bodies, and implications regarding health. When people visit, I hope they are thinking about what they can learn; how each of us is made; how our lifestyles affect our health; how important scientific research is to understanding the human condition; and how we are all similar, but different."

"Some people have a problem with the notion of using cadavers for aesthetic, as well as educational, purposes. I don't, with the caveat that there was prior explicit informed consent. I also don't think that using the bodies for purely aesthetic purposes (rather than also educational) is necessarily wrong if, again, the informed consent process was solid. I think that the bodies with props are fine. It seems to me that von Hagens is trying to represent everyday life and to reach as many people as he can in terms of their own lived experience."

Over the course of the summer, Science Buzz will feature four experts, each approaching the BODY WORLDS exhibition from a different perspective.

Dr. Mary Faith Marshall is the third in this series. Paul Wojda provided a Catholic perspective on BODY WORLDS. Dr. May Yeu Heu provided a look at Hmong cultural perspectives on body donation.

Would you donate your body for education or research? What questions would you ask first? Ask our experts!