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FIRST-PERSON: Today, fetal development exhibit; in the future, human hat racks

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (0MSI) in Portland boasts an exhibit described as, “One of the largest displays of human fetuses open to the public.” The promotion on the OMSI website continues, “Examine the different stages of human development during all nine months of pregnancy.”

The Fetal Development Exhibit consists of 44 actual unborn babies — not models of babies — in various stages of prenatal development, from an embryo all the way to 40 weeks. It appears that the value of life in America has skidded so far down the slippery slope that dead babies are now acceptable to be used for public consumption as a science exhibit.

Throughout history human life has been celebrated. Cultures have practiced rituals in recognition of mankind’s two most significant earthly experiences — birth and death.

In some shape, form or fashion, people have always celebrated a new life entering the human condition. Parties surround the birth — some prior to the blessed event, others after the baby has arrived. The child’s arrival is heralded with some sort of announcement, be it formal or word of mouth.

In similar fashion, death is also observed. Burial rituals have varied from culture to culture and have changed with the passing of time. However, throughout time there has been one constant — friends and family gathering to remember a loved one. People pause to note the end of life.

Newspapers big and small carry death notices and birth announcements. While you might not ever be a societal mover or a community shaker, you can be reasonably sure your name will appear in print twice during the span of your life.

No matter the culture and no matter the creed, people everywhere innately understand that there is something marvelously significant — even sacred — about life.

Even abortionist George Tiller, the Wichita, Kan., physician made “famous” for his willingness to terminate pregnancies late term, understands most people view life as precious. On his website he offers a service in which he gives his “patients” the opportunity to give their dead baby a respectful send off.

The universal understanding that life is special and deserving of respect is what makes the OMSI exhibit so disturbing. By displaying actual dead babies, it undermines the unique place of human life in society. In essence, the Fetal Development Exhibit communicates that human life is no more unique than frogs dissected in a first-year biology class.

OMSI seeks to justify the exhibit by offering the following disclaimer: “To the best of our knowledge, the survival of these specimens was prevented by natural causes or accidents.” The museum’s curators try to convince their patrons, and perhaps themselves, that because the babies lives may have not been intentionally taken, it is OK to exhibit them to a paying public.

Some will argue that the parents of the deceased babies could have well given permission for their unborn offspring to be used in such fashion. That argument only serves to underscore how far the respect for life has fallen in our culture. That a parent would agree to such a display, in my mind, is unconscionable.

What about people who leave their bodies to science? Those who choose to have their bodies used for such a purpose do so because they want to contribute to life, even after they are gone. They reveal a respect for life. However, to prop them up in a corner of a museum somewhere to be ogled by a paying public would serve only to diminish the dignity of life.

Who knows, perhaps the OMSI exhibit will break ground and result in a new ritual to honor the passing of life. One day we might not bury or cremate our loved ones, we’ll just ship them off to a taxidermist to be stuffed. Then we can display them in our home. However, if life ever does become that cheap, someone’s final resting place will inevitably be the corner of a room where they will serve as a hat rack. Now won’t that be dignified — almost as dignified as OMSI’s Fetal Development Exhibit.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs