"Bodies ... The Exhibition" opened Saturday in Rosslyn and features 20 cadavers and 260 other parts preserved with a process that replaces human tissue with silicone rubber. Skin is removed, exposing muscles, bones, organs, tendons, blood vessels and brains.
The displays include cadavers posed doing everyday activities, such as shooting a basketball or pedaling a bicycle. A smoker's tar-coated black lung is coupled with the healthy lung of a nonsmoker. Fetuses are shown in various stages of development. And a human heart is surrounded by the intricate network of blood vessels and veins that resemble sea coral.
The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 28, is one of several being shown around the world. New York's installation, which was expected to close three months after it opened in 2005, is still drawing crowds.
"It's the kind of education you'll never get in the classroom," said Arnie Geller, chief executive of Premier Exhibitions Inc. of Atlanta, which is putting on the show. He estimates the Washington exhibit could draw as many as 500,000 people.
The displays have drawn protests in other cities because the Chinese citizens whose cadavers and body parts are used never agreed to let their remains be displayed.
Roy Glover, Premier's chief medical adviser, said the bodies are from people who died of natural causes and had no known family member to claim them. Under Chinese law, such bodies are given to medical schools or other institutions for educational uses.
Glover said all the specimens were obtained from Dalian Medical University in China and are preserved to create a permanent lifelike specimen that does not decay.
"It would be unethical and illegal" as well as "suicide for the company" to use illegally or improperly obtained bodies, said Glover, an emeritus professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Michigan. He said the goal of the exhibit is to inform people about the way their bodies work and about the effects of some of the decisions they make, such as whether to smoke and what they eat. Glover also said some people might see artistic merit. "The human body is exquisite in structure and function, and a lot of people see beauty in that," he said.