Exhibition using Asian corpses defended
22 January 2004 , FRANKFURT - The German anatomist renowned for his exhibition of "plastinated" human bodies at exhibits around the world lashed out Thursday at critics alleging he has used unclaimed corpses from Asia - some of them executed prisoners. Addressing a packed news conference in Frankfurt, Gunther von Hagens insisted his activities at his "plastination centres" in Heidelberg and in Dalian, China, are all within the laws of both countries. He also denied having broken any laws in Kyrgyzstan, the
22 January 2004
FRANKFURT - The German anatomist renowned for his exhibition of "plastinated" human bodies at exhibits around the world lashed out Thursday at critics alleging he has used unclaimed corpses from Asia - some of them executed prisoners.
Addressing a packed news conference in Frankfurt, Gunther von Hagens insisted his activities at his "plastination centres" in Heidelberg and in Dalian, China, are all within the laws of both countries. He also denied having broken any laws in Kyrgyzstan, the source of some of his plastinated corpses.
Best known for a controversial public autopsy which drew a huge crowd in London in 2002, von Hagens faced a crowd of jostling newsmen Thursday, clamouring to ask him questions.
"I have broken no laws anywhere," stressed the 58-year-old showman. He conceded that bodies of executed prisoners might in fact have found their way to his Chinese centre.
"I can't rule out the possibility that this might inadvertently have occurred in the past, although I have stressed to my staff in China repeatedly the urgency of ensuring that such a thing should never occur," he said.
He pointed out that, while German law since the mid-1980s prohibits authorities from handing over unclaimed corpses to individuals or institutions, laws in other countries are far more lenient.
"I adhere to German law here, but I cannot be expected to go to China and try to force people there to accept the German mindset," he told journalists.
Von Hagens called the news conference amid mounting opposition to his shows in Germany from theologians and politicians. The public, however, has remained fascinated by his shows.
More than half a million people saw his latest exhibition in Hamburg, which ended earlier this month after an extended run which saw patrons stand in line for up to four hours.
Criticism of the exhibits has grown this week following allegations in Der Spiegel news magazine that Hagens had processed the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners.
The weekly magazine cited internal business documents at Von Hagens Plastination Ltd. company in Dalian, showing that an inventory in November 2003 gave a total of 647 complete bodies on store for a technique called plastination.
In plastination, corpses are saturated with reactive polymers such as silicone rubber, epoxy resins or polyester which replace body fluids and fat to create plastic-like anatomical specimens clearly showing muscle tissue, bones and vital organs.
The procedure was invented by von Hagens, who has previously maintained having a store of 250 bodies. Der Spiegel said the higher figure indicated his company has been actively involved in the procurement of corpses.
In addition, the records also showed that at least two 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.
Von Hagens conceded to Der Spiegel that members of his staff in Dalian had accepted those two bodies and that he had been "horrified" to learn of it. He said the staff members were later dismissed.
Meanwhile, 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.
Earlier, 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.
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