THE ETHICAL DILEMMA FACING CONSERVATION: CARE AND TREATMENT OF HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS AND MORTUARY OBJECTS
GAYS S. McGOWAN, & CHERYL J. LaROCHE
The ethical dilemma facing the conservation profession in the treatment of human remains is due largely to the dual cultural and scientific values of human bone. It is this duality that frequently leaves professional and lay communities at cross purposes. Cultural concerns for the sacred, spiritual, and metaphysical significance of human remains can be antithetical to the scientific approach, which subjects the remains to physical and chemical analyses.
This article will address the need for introducing stronger language into the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice for the responsible treatment of corporeal materials. We will also discuss the difficulties encountered in the professional approaches to the handling of human remains that stem from a failure to recognize the validity of the disparate components of human bone and from professional posturing that compromises interdisciplinary cooperation. The visual images of reliquaries, mortuary objects, and skeletal remains that accompany this article are intended to illustrate our points and are not representative of the variety of cultures affected by the concerns we have expressed.