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September 25, 2006

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.


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I for one, would be honored if someone had a picture of my spleen up on someone's cube wall.

"If you can put up pictures of the outsides of your friends and family in your office, why not pictures of their insides?"

Because it's tacky. It's another's insides, not yours and many people find medical information too, too personal, too intimate to be out in the public domain - even though that 'public domain' is your office or cubicle. And, cubicle vs. office may be another point. I have an office with a door AND a big window; cubicle are generally more 'public' appearing.

But then, I AM a rad tech, who has 'developed' into an mri tech, and have been my entire adult life. (Of course that's via education)

Perhaps you can scan it and use it as a screensaver if the medical genius of it all is so enticing.

{Oh, and it's MRIs - no apostrophe, as in medical resonance imaging(s)/image(s).}

That should read..."cubicles are"

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.

I suppose if I had any friends with normal brains this discussion wouldn't feel so academic.

I'm still miffed they wouldn't give me my dog's x-ray a few years ago when he had pancreatitis. All those bones were kinda cute and cuddly.

I see no problem with it. I don't think there's a difference between inside and outside photos except insomuch that the perspective is different. If you have a photo on your desk of a dear friend or family member who happens to be missing an arm or a leg, did you get that person's permission first before placing it there? It does reveal a medical condition, does it not? And what of a pregnant wife or girlfriend? I think those present the same considerations. IMHO, there's really no difference between those kinds of photos and the MRI.

The issue is one of privacy since we have a reasonable expectation of it with regards to our innards but not so much with what's on the outside. This kind of scan certainly won't lead to identifying the subject -- and identification is the only concern in maintaining privacy. As long as it doesn't reveal who the person is and that information isn't offered by anyone who knows, I think it's a rather intriguing idea (MRIs are cool to look at for the reasons noted, so why not?).

Of course, there's one last consideration: I'd only put it up if I wouldn't mind the subject seeing it and knowing what it was.

Someone at my last job passed around the ultrasounds of his eagerly expected child in utero. That was charming and not tacky at all.

He got his wife's permission, of course.

I had thought about using my own MRI for an album cover, if I ever put out some music.

MRIs are pretty abstract (even those which show problems need expertise, and usually time, to read).

They are, however, private; so getting permission would seem appropriate.

If you have permission, I don't see a problem, it's not as if it's a picture of someone guts laid out during surgery.

I'd kind of like to see the MRI (and the CT scans) from my stay at Walter Reed.

I guess the ultimate in invasion of privacy by scans, is to display an image of electrical activity in the brain alongside what the subject was witnessing .

I would be interested to see Tony Blair's scan while confronted by an image of christ on the cross,

I asked for a video of my colonoscopy because everything God makes is beautiful, even the poop chute. However, I've often wondered if lab tech's are using my urine in some blasphemously sick modern art display. After they've analyzed it do you think I should ask for the remainder of it back?

I'd say if you get permission, it's fine. But speaking from experience, after you get permission, it isn't cool to photoshop in a cukoo clock.

There are two solutions to the problem:
1. Go to a neurologist complaining of headaches and ask for an MRI. Then put "your" MRI up on the wall.
2. If you don't want to go to the trouble, just tell everyone the MRI on the wall is yours. Nobody will know it's not.
MRI's are cool. Especially the eyeballs and eye sockets.

It's like having a really tame version of pickled featii on a shelf in your office - immeasurably cool.

Sci-art is generally awesome though, like that cactus that grows human hair by Laura Cinti.

It's interesting you use Bob Smith (former senator, R-NH) as an example.

Many of us here wondered if "Caveman Bob" ever _had_ a brain.

why do we have to take a picture our selves?????

it bcoz we are remembering the past in our lives good or bad... and making it an inspiration....

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