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A French judge ruled Tuesday to shut down a Paris exhibition of real human bodies from China, saying that exhibiting dead bodies for profit is a "violation of the respect owed to them."
"Under the law, the proper place for corpses is in the cemetery," said Judge Louis-Marie Raingeard.
Raingeard ordered the exhibition, "Our Body: the Universe Within," to close within 24 hours or face a fine of 20,000 euros (over 26,000 dollars) for each day it stays open. The judge also ordered authorities to seize the 17 bodies on display and all of the organs on display from an unknown amount of people for proper burial.
The show displays the bodies in various poses that have been turned into plastic through a process called "plastination," in which a corpse is completely dehydrated and the flesh and bones are infused with plastic. Several companies put on similar shows across the United States and around the world.
The Paris show exhibits a plastinated man on a bicycle, whose remains are designed to teach patrons about the respiratory system, according to the show's organizer. There is also a chess-player, and an archer on display. Tickets go for 15.5 euros or about 20 dollars. Thousands of patrons have seen the show since it opened in Paris in February after tours in Lyon and Marseille.
Human rights groups are hailing Judge Raingeard's decision.
"I am extremely happy with the decision," said Richard Sedillot, a lawyer for two Paris-based human rights groups who filed a complaint against the show's organizer.
Sedillot said that given the well-documented human rights abuses in China, he fears some of the cadavers on display come from executed prisoners.
"I am convinced that the exhibition is the last step in a horrible traffic operation of human bodies originating in China."
Sedillot said the organizer could not prove that the bodies on display were donated with consent and that the exhibition itself violates French law.
"Parliament has understood that when you can make money with human bodies, there will always be someone who will be there to profit off of them—maybe to kill someone, maybe sentence someone to death, or maybe to deny medical care in order to be able to sell the body. We know today in China bodies are subject to a trafficking and that is why we must prevent these exhibitions from going on," said Sedillot. He added that he hopes to represent plaintiffs outside of France who seek to shut down shows in other countries.
Pascal Bernardin, the manager of Encore Events, the company that puts on the show in France, said the ruling was "absurd" and that he is appealing the decision.
"Thousands of people have written to me saying how much they loved and learned from this. It's done with class and is artistic and respectful," he said.
Having officially received the ordinance Wednesday, he said he planned to close the doors to the exhibit Thursday until he goes to the appellate court.
Bernardin said he believes that all the bodies put on display, which he said he obtained from a medical and anatomical foundation in Hong Kong, were donated by either the Chinese individual or his or her close relative.