Hawaii has become the first state to officially ban exhibitions of human bodies for profit, shutting down the popular "BODIES…the Exhibition" show that displays "unclaimed" bodies from China.
Lawmakers in the island state said the possibility of profiting off executed prisoners from China would not be tolerated in a state where many residents come from Asian backgrounds.
Premier Exhibitions, the publicly traded Atlanta-based company that puts on the show, has made millions of dollars from "BODIES" exhibits across the country, in Europe and in Asia.
State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, Chair of the House Committee on Finance, said he introduced his state's legislation after watching the ABC News 20/20 probe into the origins of the bodies.
The 2008 report uncovered a thriving black market in human bodies in China and a self-admitted dealer in the bodies black market who described "body runs" to a location where bodies, including those of executed prisoners, were sold for $200 to $300.
"I never thought the show would come to Hawaii and when it did I decided Hawaiians would not tolerate the exhibition of these bodies for commercial profit. These people could be executed prisoners," Oshiro said.
"Hawaii has a large population of people with an Asian background so that hits very close to home," he added.
The new law also increases the financial penalty for misuse of a dead human body from $1,000 to $5,000.
Oshiro said that Hawaii's main historical museum does exhibit the sacred bones of native Hawaiians, and there are provisions in the state bill that allow for that exhibition to continue.
Some critics of the bill say that there is no difference between the display of those ancient remains and the plastinated Chinese bodies.
"I visited the exhibit. I learned something," wrote one blogger under the name "Publius808" in support of the exhibition in Hawaii. "If the allegations are true that these bodies were used without permission, then that's terrible. But this law is banal and sophomoric putting personal bias over science and art."
Premier denies that any of the bodies on display are from executed prisoners, saying that all of the bodies came from a medical school in Dalian, China, and that their suppliers assured them that no evidence of trauma has been found of any of the bodies put on display.
But school officials told 20/20 it was "not true" that the school provides bodies for display in the U.S. Instead, the report found the bodies were provided by a private company run by a professor from the medical university which initially supplied the bodies but had pulled out because of bad publicity.
In the wake of the 20/20 report, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo launched a probe into the company's practices. Premier settled with Cuomo's office in May 2008, and the terms of the settlement required the company to prove that any new bodies on display were from consenting individuals.