April 21, 2009 / 4:47 PM / 11 years ago

French court says body show indecent, closes it

PARIS (Reuters) - An exhibition of human bodies, which has traveled the world and been seen by millions, is indecent and must shut down, a French judge ordered on Tuesday.

A plastinated cadavre, seen in this April 3, 2009 file photo, is displayed in the Paris exhibition of "Our Body". A French judge ruled on Tuesday that an exhibition of human bodies, which has travelled the world, was indecent and said it must shut down in a landmark decision is based on a new law that regulates how corpses can be disposed of and could force all French museums to withdraw bodies or skeletons from display. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Files

The landmark decision is based on a new law that regulates how corpses can be disposed of and could force all French museums to withdraw bodies or skeletons from display.

The “Our Body” show features several cadavers that have been flayed to reveal the internal workings of a body.

French human rights groups condemned the initiative, repeating accusations from previous such shows that the unidentified bodies might have been Chinese execution victims.

Two groups took the organizers to court and in a ruling released on Tuesday, Judge Louis-Marie Raingeard said the exhibition denigrated the human body, without entering into the origin of the bodies.

“The law says a body should be in a cemetery,” the judge said, giving the organizers 24 hours to shut down the exhibition or face a fine of 20,000 euros ($25,810) each day they refused to comply with the order.

Some of the corpses have been cut into neat cross sections, others are displayed in varying degrees of dissection. The flayed skin of one cadaver is laid out across a cabinet case, complete with pubic hair and penis.

The judge said the corpses should be handed over to the authorities under threat of a fine of 50,000 euros a day.

The French exhibition was set up by events entrepreneur Pascal Bernardin, who said he would appeal.

“I am staggered by this decision,” said Bernardin.

“There is no lack of respect for the dead here. This is not an art show, but an anatomic, educational show,” he added.

The various bodies on display are preserved by “plastination,” a lengthy process that replaces all body fluids with polymers to create odorless, long-lasting exhibits.

The judge used a December 2008 law to ban the show, but Bernardin said the legislation laid down a framework for how families and authorities disposed of bodies and should not apply to science displays.

“What is going to happen with all the bodies shown in numerous museums across France? Are they going to have to remove all bodies on display?” he said, raising the prospect of Egyptian mummies having to be removed from view.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Numerous versions of the show have been seen by some 30 million people worldwide and the Paris event has drawn a steady stream of visitors, undeterred by the 15.5 euro entrance fee — unusually high for an exhibition in the French capital.

“I think it is good to show this to people. It gives you a totally different vision of the human body. It’s true it is a bit shocking, but that is the reality. It shows we are all the same,” said Nathalie Bernard, a French tourist from Vars.

The exhibition was scheduled to stay open in Paris until May 10 before moving to another venue just outside the capital.

Editing by Matthew Jones

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