Russian investigators probe exhibit showcasing dissected human corpses after religious leaders slam Body Worlds show as ‘immoral’

A popular traveling exhibition featuring the preserved bodies of people and animals has sparked controversy in Russia despite attracting huge crowds. Authorities are now looking into whether it breaches any rules in the country.

In a statement published on Wednesday, Chairman of the Federal Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin instructed officials to conduct a check of Body Worlds “in relation to the organizers’ displays of human bodies and organs.”

According to the agency, “a number of media outlets have criticized this commercial exhibition, which, according to public figures, violates moral values, expresses a clear disrespect for society and can be regarded as an insult to the religious feelings of believers. Also, a petition is being circulated online demanding the closure of the exhibition.”

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‘Forty Forties’, a campaign group linked to the Orthodox Church, had previously written to prosecutors demanding an investigation into the show, which has toured countries across the world. Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the church’s media department, also criticized the commercialization of human corpses as “inappropriate.”

The show features bodies that have undergone a process of ‘plastination’, using chemicals to stop them decomposing. The process was pioneered by anatomist Gunther von Hagens almost half a century ago, and he has since exhibited the corpses as part of Body Worlds. Since 1995, the organizers say they have received more than 37 million visitors, making it the most popular traveling show in the world.

However, the showcase has received mixed reactions from governments across the world, and in 2009 a French court ruled that an exhibit in Paris was a “violation of the respect owed” to the deceased, seizing the human remains for proper burial. Hagens insists that all the corpses and body parts were donated with consent of those who died. However, in 2004, he returned seven bodies to China because of fears they belonged to executed prisoners.

The Moscow exhibit has seen thousands line up outside for tickets despite freezing temperatures, and the organizers insist that it is operating in line with legal requirements. Their goal, they say, is to offer visitors a better understanding of the human body.

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