(CN) – The company that supplied preserved human corpses to the controversial “Bodies” exhibition can proceed with a libel and defamation lawsuit against the human rights foundation that claimed the specimens were executed Chinese prisoners bought on the black market rather than anonymous remains donated to medical researchers, a federal judge ruled.
Hongjin Sui, a doctor of anatomy, and Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique preserved human bodies and organs in plastic and then sold them to Premier Exhibitions, which specializes in creating museum exhibits that tour internationally.
After Premier Exhibitions launched “Bodies” in Tampa in 2005, a Virginia man, Harry Wu, countered with a massive protest. National media attention quickly prompted resignations from museum curators, legislation to ban such exhibits and investigations from state attorneys general.
Wu serves as director of the Washington, D.C.-based Laogai Research Foundation, which raises public awareness about forced-labor prison camp system in China. In court, on his website and on ABC’s “20/20,” Wu accused the Chinese-based plaintiffs of trafficking in human bodies.
In addition to claiming that the bodies come from Chinese prisons or the black market, Wu also says Sui stole his preservation technique.
The researchers say they obtained unclaimed cadavers from China in keeping with the country’s practice of delivering such specimens to scientific research. They filed suit for defamation, libel, slander and tortuous interference.
Wu and the foundation moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, claiming that the plaintiffs are not Florida residents and no harm occurred in Florida.
U.S. District Judge Steve Merryday disagreed, noting that Wu’s website is accessible in Florida.
“The plaintiffs need not travel to the defendants’ state of residence in order to obtain a remedy,” he wrote.
Merryday also found that the defamation and tortious interference claims survived summary judgment.
Sui, the plaintiff, filed a motion to strike Wu’s affidavit, but Merryday denied that motion, saying that Wu’s statements in the affidavit are “quintessentially statements of personal knowledge.”
Amid uncertainty about the origins of the body specimens, many legislators and organizations have panned the exhibit. A New York Times journalist reported in 2006 that supplying organs and cadavers has become “a ghastly new underground mini-industry” in China.
As New York attorney general in 2008, now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he reached a settlement with Premier Exhibitions that requires the company to “obtain documentation demonstrating the cause of death and origins of the cadavers and body parts it displays as well as proof that the decedent consented to the use of his or her remains in such a manner.”
“The grim reality is that Premier Exhibitions has profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals. Nor is Premier able to establish that these people consented to their remains being used in this manner.”
New York joined Washington state and California in trying to legislate exhibits that use human remains.