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Dr. May Yeu Heu practices medicine at Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood. She's one of the few Hmong physicians in the world.
Heu was born in the mountains of Laos, lived as a refugee in the camps of Thailand, and escaped to France before coming to the US. She finished high school and college in California, and then attended medical school in the West Indies. She completed her residency at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Heu serves on the Science Museum's Body Worlds advisory committee, representing a medical and Hmong point of view.
Hmong people who follow traditional religious practice believe in reincarnation, animism (the belief that spirits and forces inhabit the natural universe), and worship ancestral spirits. Medical procedures such as organ donation-or blood transfusions or surgery-are traditionally unacceptable since a person who experiences any of those would be reincarnated with an incomplete body or a body with something foreign in it.
Given the choice, it is safe to assume that Hmong people will not donate their bodies, nor will their families allow it. However, younger Hmong people are more open to donation of whole bodies for research or educational purposes, such as the Body Worlds exhibition.
Yeu says, "Bodies are so sacred, and the souls of those bodies transcend their existence. Hmong religion teaches us that spirits often wander around if bodies are not buried with the appropriate ceremonial rites and proper respect. So it's very important that we only use a person's body in a way they would have wanted. Consent is critical."
"Visitors to the exhibit are privileged, and should be thankful for the donors' generosity. It's important that spectators be sensitive. Remember they were once alive like you, and had dreams, sorrows, and hopes. Look, appreciate, explore, and learn from the exhibit. Call it art or call it science, call it sacrilege or call it sacrifice, call it beautiful or call it repulsive. Express whatever feeling you have within, but please have nothing short of reverence for the only true masterpiece of this exhibition: the human body."
Over the course of the summer, Science Buzz will feature four experts, each approaching the BODY WORLDS exhibition from a different perspective. Dr. May Yeu Heu is the second in this series. Last month Paul Wojda provided a Catholic perspective on BODY WORLDS.
Would you donate your body for education or research? What questions would you ask first? Ask our experts!