Bodies Exhibitions Face Possible Ban in California

New law would outlaw the display of unclaimed bodies from China.

ByABC News
August 21, 2008, 3:48 PM

August 21, 2008— -- In an unprecedented victory for human rights activists, California legislators have passed a new law that would ban the display of unclaimed bodies from China for profit in the state.

Majority Whip Fiona Ma of San Francisco who introduced the legislation said its passage shows that California does not accept the commercial exploitation of the deceased.

"This bill will end the practice of unwilled dead-body trafficking," said Ma after her bill recently passed in both the Assembly and the Senate by an overwhelming majority.

ABC News 20/20 interviewed Ma during a four-month investigation of Premier Exhibitions, a publicly traded company that displays the remains of "unclaimed" Chinese people across the country and around the world for about $25 a ticket.

The investigation found that the bodies on display could have been those of executed prisoners.

Ma told ABC News she became suspicious about the exhibitions when she realized that all of the bodies on display were Chinese.

"As an Asian American, I know that few people from my community would voluntarily donate their organs or bodies due to the strong cultural preference of leaving their body intact for burial after death," said Ma. "I am hopeful that the bill will receive the Governor's signature and the practice of unwilled body trafficking will be put to a halt."

Ma's bill is on its way to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but a spokesperson for the Governor said he does not have a position on bills until they reach his desk.

The bill will prohibit the commercial display of human remains after the start of 2010 unless exhibitors file an affidavit to the Attorney General attesting that the donors consented to being put on display, and requires that the exhibitors maintain a paper trail for public inspection.

The state will fine any exhibitor $50,000 per violation if the company fails to maintain the consent forms, and will prohibit the company from continuing to display bodies for profit.