Is it appropriate to use a loved one's MRI as wall art?
David Ng asks:
So, for the last couple of days, I've been feeling a little unsettled. Here's the backdrop, but I'm also interested on what folks think, if they care to comment.
Basically, for about a week or so, I had a MRI head scan of someone I care about on one of my office walls. Initially, the reason to do this was that MRI's are first and foremost impressive looking, and the sort of thing that one can marvel at - that is, the ability to see the brain in different swaths etc.
On occasion, people dropping by the office would ask about it, and this would inevitably lead into an anecdote that is part personal reflection (being a biologist and someone who happens to be knowledgable in the genetic counselling arena), as well as part neurology lesson (there being a reason that the MRI was done in the first place).
A colleague happen to come by on Friday and suggested that having it up in the first place is a bit "wonky." He felt that it should be taken down - it's significance was too close to me. So I did, because he is the sort of person I already trust (even though I don't know him that well).
If you can put up pictures of the outsides of your friends and family in your office, why not pictures of their insides?
Granted, you should get the subject's permission to put up the MRI, especially if it shows something that the subject might prefer to keep private.
Putting up a picture of your friend Bob's normal brain is probably not a big deal, especially if you clear it with Bob first.
On the other hand, it might be a problem if the MRI shows that Bob has a brain disease or malformation that would be obvious to all your colleagues. In that case, it would be important not only to get Bob's permission, but also to make sure he that he understands what the MRI reveals about his health.
You should probably also ask Bob's permission if you want to make this art into a conversation piece. It's one thing to have the picture up, or use it as a teaching tool without mentioning any names, but it's quite another to say to visitors, "Check out my friend Bob Smith's brain!"
If you and Bob come to a mutual understanding, then I see no reason not to display his MRI as art in your office.