The Body Worlds show have been both controversial as well as enlightening. If you have never heard of it, it’s now a worldwide exhibition of human bodies with the all the skin stripped revealing muscles, tissues, organs and bones. If it’s not disturbing enough, it had come to light several years back that many of the human bodies displayed were people who did not give their consent.
The process of plasticination has been hailed as a outstanding new development. It aids medical teaching and informs the public of the intricacies of the human body. Pioneered by Dr. Gunther von Hagen from Germany, plasticination is a process of turning flesh and bone into a permanent plastic form.
In January 2004 edition of Germany’s influential magazine, Der Spiegel, von Hagens was featured on the cover under the headline, “Dr. Death.” The good Doctor had purchased the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners, and that the corpses had bullet holes in their heads.
Managing director of the Frankfurt based International Society for Human Rights, Karl Hafen said, “One must distinguish between artistic freedom and human rights.” Von Hagens had denied that his employees had knowingly purchased the bodies of prisoners who had spent their last moments on their knees before being killed by a bullet to the back of the head, he did say “The likelihood is very slim, but I cannot rule it out.”
Nevertheless, Dr. von Hagens did return seven Chinese bodies for “proper burial” when he could not prove they had not been executed. All the bodies have gone through plasticination. Controversy continues to follow von Hagens.
In another case, in Novosibirsk, Siberia, authorities charged Dr. Vladimir Novosyolov for illegally supplying 56 bodies and 448 brains secretly to Hagens’ Institute of Plasticination in Heidelberg Germany. The bodies were all from a local medical school. The bodies were reclaimed by the authorities and buried in their home country.
Professor Gebitto, Chief Anatomical Specialist of Kurgystan Academy of Medical Science is in charge of one of the two Hagens International Centers of Plasticination. The other plasticination center is in China. According to Professor Gebitto, when someone dies in Kurgystan and if the body is not claimed by anyone within 30 days, it would be send for plasticination.
For 8 months the body would be immersed in liquid plastic. This is to infuse the plastic into the tissues, bones and muscle. After that, the body would be send out to be skinned and spliced before becoming an exhibit in Body Worlds. Professor Gebitto admitted that there was no consent given by the owners.
Today the company says that they may not be able to prove the origins of all the bodies, but that they are definitely not executed prisoners. Dr. Gunther von Hagens insists all cadavers in his exhibitions come from people who have voluntarily donated their bodies.
So far the museum of New York requires the company to turn over documents of origin and cause of death of the bodies before they are displayed there. No one is sure how effective the regulations are and whether similar checks are done in other exhibitions in other parts of the world.
Though plasticination is a breakthrough in medical science, trafficking dead bodies for this purpose is illegal, unethical and in violation of human rights. The problem now is that the masses are embracing this popular development and have conveniently forgotten or are oblivious to what’s happening behind the scenes.
Worldwide Body Worlds Exhibitions are a big money maker and competition from other companies are now creating an even bigger demand for human cadavers. Trafficking dead bodies are bound to occur more often in the future. The poor, homeless and the mentally ill are now even more in danger of being exploited in a new fashion.
I’m always for new innovations and new developments but illegal supplying and exhibiting of human cadavers without consent is just dead wrong. Even the dead should be given respect, dignity and protection. Has the time really come when a dead person’s final resting place is in a museum? This is such a disturbing trend. Nothing seems to be sacred anymore. Life and death is literally turn upside down and inside out.
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