Medical museum embroiled in brouhaha over bequeathed body parts

One of the world's greatest cabinets of medical curiosities, Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, is in the midst of a controversy around the human remains in its collection. The museum isn't accepting new donations of corpses and apparently has removed some items from display until it sorts out a revised human-remains policy. The Mütter is just one of many museums struggling with the ethics of exhibiting such specimens—historical and contemporary—without consent of the body part's original owner or their family.

The pause is disheartening to some donors like 39-year-old biomedical engineer Rachel Lance who gifted her unusually large uterine fibroid—nicknamed "Helga the Destroyer"—for display.

"They have my body part, and they won't tell me what they're going to do with it," says Lance, who added that she may request the museum return the item to her.

From the Wall Street Journal:

In past years, the Mütter held Halloween celebrations, an annual holiday market and art classes for people to sketch specimens. Among the museum's whimsical displays is a sign left from the pandemic era, asking visitors to stay 6 feet or about one "megacolon" apart. 

Under [Kate] Quinn, who became executive director in 2022, the museum has halted some of its activities, including the Halloween party. "The world has changed," Quinn said. "Every institution is looking at their past practices in light of social-justice reckoning, in light of colonialism." The American Museum of Natural History in New York said in October that it would remove human remains from view[…]

"Collecting and stewarding human remains is something that needs to be treated with more respect and dignity than books that come into the collection or pharmaceutical bottles," Quinn said.

Learn more about this spectacular place in the beautiful book Mütter Museum by Gretchen Worden.