Sabrina Eaton, The Plain Dealer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Traveling exhibits that feature preserved cadavers from China, like the “Bodies” exhibition under way in downtown Cleveland, have triggered legislative action from a Missouri congressman who worries the displayed remains come from executed Chinese prisoners.

The company that runs Cleveland’s “Bodies . . . The Exhibition” says its cadavers come from Chinese people who died of natural causes, not executed prisoners. The displayed corpses are preserved through a plastination process and dissected by a Chinese medical lab to show their physical systems and organs.

“We examined all the bodies to ensure we can find no signs of trauma or any signs of torture-related damage,” says Cleveland native Roy Glover, who serves as chief medical director for Premier Exhibitions Inc., which runs the Euclid Avenue exhibit. “We exercise due diligence because we understand the concerns and want to be absolutely sure the bodies we use were obtained legally and ethically.”

Glover says the Chinese medical lab has given his company signed affidavits that attest to the bodies’ origins, but his assurances don’t mollify Republican congressman Todd Akin, who objects  to a “Bodies” exhibit that Premier plans to open this October in his St. Louis district.

Akin notes that the company has posted a disclaimer at its New York City show that states it has relied “solely on the representation of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that (its bodies) do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”

“I do not believe that as a nation we should tolerate even a chance that we are allowing the public display of executed prisoners for the edification or amusement of shoppers,” Akin said in a press release that announced his introduction last month of a bill that would ban U.S. imports of plastinated Chinese human remains.

Akin’s bill, which has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, is backed by the Laogai Research Foundation, a human rights group that researches Chinese prison camps.

“We think the exhibits should be allowed to continue, provided that they use a donation system from countries where there can be assurances that the bodies were voluntarily donated by their owners,” said Lindsey Purdy, a Laogai program associate.

Missouri and New York aren’t the only places where questions have been raised about the exhibit. Last year, Hawaii passed a state law that banned the “for profit” display of human bodies after officials there expressed fears that the company’s bodies came from political prisoners.

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