Beauty queen questions origins of corpses in Sydney exhibition

Anastasia Lin, left, has questioned the Real Bodies exhibition, right, currently in Sydney. Source: AAP

An activist and former Miss World Canada has claimed human bodies and body parts used in the Real Bodies exhibition are those of Chinese prisoners - something organisers deny.

Since winning the Miss World Canada title in 2015, Anastasia Lin's life has changed more than most beauty queens.

The Chinese-born actress had entered the competition promising to advocate against human rights abuses in China. 

Soon after winning the crown, Ms Lin's father, who lives in China, told her he had been visited by the authorities. 

"My father then sent me a message begging that I leave them a way to survive in China," Ms Lin told SBS News. "It was the first time in my life where I was forced to make a decision truly based on my conscience. It was a hard decision."

Anastasia Lin has used her platform as Miss World Canada 2015 to highlight human rights abuses in China.
Anastasia Lin has used her platform as Miss World Canada 2015 to highlight human rights abuses in China.

Refusing to be intimidated, she has become a prominent activist against what she believes is unethical harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience (those imprisoned over their political or religious views) in China - a claim denied by Chinese authorities.  

Ms Lin is Australia this week to promote her new short film Reunion which questions the origins of corpses used in exhibitions such as Real Bodies: The Exhibition, currently on in Sydney.

The display features 20 preserved human bodies and over 200 anatomical specimens. 

Real Bodies
Two children explore the Real Bodies Exhibition in Sydney.

Organisers have strenuously denied claims the bodies, which have been preserved through plastination are executed prisoners. 

But Ms Lin has called on them to show documentation to prove the bodies were willingly donated. 

"These Chinese citizens are on display, they might have never consented to their body being there. We don’t know who they are, but they are real people. In Australia you would never allow any Australian citizen to have their body on display if they don’t agree to it."

'Unclaimed bodies'

Imagine Exhibitions, which runs Real Bodies, The Exhibition, sourced the specimens from Dalian Medical University Biology Plantation in China. 

CEO Tom Zaller said the exhibition features unclaimed bodies donated legally for educational purposes.

He called on Ms Lin and other protesters to present proof of their claims. 

"Otherwise, they continue to dupe members of the media who fall into this trap of fake news. The people of Australia should not be censored. They should decide for themselves the educational value of Real Bodies The Exhibition."

Real Bodies
The exhibition features 20 preserved human bodies.

Asked what documentation was provided about the origins of the bodies, Mr Zaller said Dalian Medical University Biology Plantation owner Dr Hong Jin Sui signed a Certified Declaration that the specimens were obtained legally, were never prisoners of any kind and died of natural causes. 

'Transplant tourism'

Away from the arts word, Ms Lin, a practitioner of Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Gong, is also calling on the Australian Government to prevent Australians travelling to China for organ transplants. 

“We have to tell them that we don’t accept this kind of practice and we’re not going to have blood on our hands. We have way more leverage than we think.”

A Federal Parliament inquiry is underway into "transplant tourism", investigating whether Australians are visiting China for such procedures. 

New South Wales has also become the first Australian jurisdiction to pass legislation tackling the global trade in unethically sourced body parts and tissue - mostly for use in the medical industry.

The Modern Slavery Bill due to be passed by the State Parliament this week includes an amendment requiring corporations or government agencies with an annual turnover of more than $50 million to prove imported human material are ethically sourced.   

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge proposed the amendment. 

"There have been many concerns raised that some of the sourced organs or stem cell cultures have been unethically obtained in some countries."

Mr Shoebridge said the legislation will also prevent major teaching hospitals in Australia training surgeons who then undertake unethical organ transplants in other countries.   

While he shares Ms Lin's concerns about the source of specimens in the Real Bodies exhibition, it's unclear if the new legislation would apply. 

"There is a question mark as to whether or not they would be required to report on this because it may be a relatively small operation that is hosting the so they may not meet the $50 million," Mr Shoebridge said.

'Massive change'

In December 2014, the Chinese Government admitted that it had harvested organs from executed prisoners in the past and the practice would end from January 2015. 

Leading Australian transplant expert Professor Jeremy Chapman said that declaration coincided with a concerted effort to boost voluntary donations.

"I think it's the view of most of my international colleagues that the hospitals have understood that executing prisoners is not a way to proceed with organ donation any more," Professor Chapman told SBS News.  

"The vast majority of organs retrieved today come from people who have died in intensive care. They have 60,000 road deaths a year let alone other causes of injury and cerebrovascular hemorrhage."

He finds the criticism from Falun Gong practitioners alleging forced organ donation continues to occur in China "distressing".

"There’s been a massive change, I think it really is up to those that those who continue to believe that people are taken off the streets and killed for their organs to provide names." 

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