He studies bioethics in the Catholic tradition

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Paul Wojda is a theology professor at the University of St. Thomas. He helps his students and others think about the intersection between biology and morality—the ethical implications of biological research and its applications, and the potential impact on society—in light of Roman Catholic teachings. Wojda also serves on a variety of medical ethics committees.

We are featuring Paul Wojda as part of the Science Museum of Minnesota's exhibition of BODY WORLDS

a christian cross and a woman working in a biology lab

No official position on body donation

The Roman Catholic Church has no official position on the donation of whole bodies for research or educational purposes, such as the Body Worlds exhibition.

"For me, being human means not <i>having</i> a body but <i>being</i> a body, and thus understanding our bodies is part of the adventure of knowing who we are, and so coming to a deeper appreciation of our fundamental human dignity."

However, the Catholic Church encourages organ donation under certain conditions:

  • The donor must have died of natural causes;
  • Proper, informed consent must be given by the donor, with verification by a trustworthy source (or consent of the nearest kin, provided the deceased would not have opposed the donation);
  • The donor’s remains must be treated with respect consistent with what was, until death, and will be again, a temple of the Holy Spirit.

So, is the Body Worlds exhibition ethical?

Wojda says,

“Reasonable people may come to legitimately different conclusions about Body Worlds. And we all may learn a lot in the exchange.”

“The artistic representation of some of the bodies is what makes Body Worlds interesting. Some people might think it’s disrespectful, but I think it challenges us to reflect on our embodied nature, not just by exhibiting preserved bodies—that’s what happens in gross anatomy class in medical school—but also through the agency of art. This would be a remarkably different exhibition if the bodies were simply laid out in a supine position.”

“Not everyone is willing to donate his or her body for education or research, especially for a project like the Body Worlds exhibition. The exhibition teaches about human anatomy—and dignity in the process—and when you view it with the donors’ generosity in mind, you might appreciate it that much more.”

Over the course of the summer, Science Buzz will feature four experts, each approaching the Body Worlds exhibition from a different perspective. Paul Wojda is the first in this series.

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