Anatomist bows out of talks with critics
21 January 2004 , FRANKFURT - A controversial anatomist who prepares human corpses for public exhibition pulled out of talks with some of his critics amid mounting opposition to his shows in Germany. Gunther von Hagens has withdrawn from a planned podium discussion organized by the Evangelical Church in Frankfurt for Wednesday featuring critics of the corpse exhibitions. Criticism of the Body Worlds shows has grown this week following allegations in Der Spiegel news magazine that Hagens had processed the b
21 January 2004
FRANKFURT - A controversial anatomist who prepares human corpses for public exhibition pulled out of talks with some of his critics amid mounting opposition to his shows in Germany.
Gunther von Hagens has withdrawn from a planned podium discussion organized by the Evangelical Church in Frankfurt for Wednesday featuring critics of the corpse exhibitions.
Criticism of the Body Worlds shows has grown this week following allegations in Der Spiegel news magazine that Hagens had processed the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners.
A spokeswoman for Hagens' Heidelberg-based Institute for Plastination said Hagens would not take part in the discussion in Frankfurt Wednesday evening "in view of the current reports".
He will make a statement on Thursday in Frankfurt where his travelling Body Worlds exhibition is on show.
Prosecutors in Heidelberg have begun an inquiry into the latest allegations to see if they warrant a judicial investigation. The German Hospice Foundation and the Hesse Medical Association have called for the show to be closed.
On Tuesday, the German Pathologists Association issued a statement saying that independent of the outcome of any legal investigation Hagens was violating medical regulations.
If the latest allegations were true Hagens' work was not only contrary to the main purposes of carrying out autopsies but "fatally recalls the practices of the Nazis with the living and the dead", a statement said.
Der Spiegel has cited internal business documents at the "Von Hagens Plastination Ltd" company in Dalian, China, showing that an inventory in November 2003 gave a total of 647 complete bodies on store for a technique called plastination.
The records also showed that at least two of the bodies, of a man and a woman, were those of executed Chinese criminals, with bullet holes in the heads, it said. They were handed to the Dalian factory in December 2001.
In plastination, real corpses are saturated with reactive polymers such as silicone rubber, epoxy resins or polyester which replace the body fluids and fat to create plastic-like "see-through" bodies clearly showing muscle tissue, bones and vital organs.
The Spiegel report is the latest controversy surrounding Hagens' permanent travelling exhibition of plastinated corpses.
Everywhere the exhibition goes in Germany, the show draws strong protests from theologians and other community leaders, with critics saying the show is immoral and unethical.
The German Hospice Foundation has rejected any scientific value to the exhibition.
Foundation director Eugen Brysch said the show did not nothing to break down the taboo surrounding death but "on the contrary strengthens the distance between man and death".
The exhibition was "as if dying and death have got nothing to do with each other, as if man is exclusively an object of art", he said.
But Body Worlds, first shown in Mannheim in 1996, also attract huge crowds, with Hagens arguing that it makes people more aware of the human body. He says that afterwards, some visitors sign papers agreeing to donate their bodies.
The German Pathologists Association meanwhile questioned Hagens' right to use the title "professor". It said the University of Heidelberg had stated Hagens was not a member of the faculty, and that he was merely a "guest professor" in China.
Subject: German news