Who said it was OK to display Chang and Eng’s liver?

Chang and Eng Bunker’s widows didn’t want to give away their husbands’ bodies after death, even when offered large amounts of money, even though they were left with many children to support. But the College of Physicians of Philadelphia convinced them it was ‘a duty to science and humanity that the family of the deceased should permit an autopsy,’ so the widows allowed the postmortem on the condition that the band between the brothers not be cut….

“If you go to the museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia – the Mütter Museum – today, you can see the conjoined livers of Chang and Eng displayed right below the plaster death cast the college made of their bodies while they were briefly in its possession. It isn’t clear if the Bunker widows knew that the livers would be taken, no less displayed. One of Eng’s descendants asked me, years ago, if I could help her figure out if there had, in fact, been permission from the Bunkers. She had been to the museum and found it a little strange to have people making fun of her ancestors’ organs. Not disgusting or upsetting or anything – just strange….

“I asked the descendant what she’d want to do if we did find evidence that the Bunker widows explicitly did not want the livers kept by the college. She laughed…. Should it be buried, she asked me rhetorically, at the gravesite containing the bodies, in Mount Airy? Should it be passed around the hundreds of living descendants, displayed on various mantels around the country in turn?

“I pictured an old conjoined liver treated like the Stanley Cup….”

— From “Visiting your leg” by Alice Dreger at Aeon (Nov. 16, 2016)

 

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