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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 08:46 GMT
Corpse show 'will be educational'
Professor von Hagens
Prof von Hagens says the show should "give enlightenment"
A controversial exhibition featuring human corpses and body parts is coming to London after drawing crowds around the world.

BBC News Online spoke to its creator, Professor Gunther von Hagens.

The reason for an exhibition of human corpses with their skin stripped off and organs, arteries and nerves exposed is to teach the public about anatomy, according to Prof von Hagens.

He has pioneered a technique that means bodies can be preserved and displayed in detailed and graphic ways. His exhibition has already been seen by almost eight million people around the world.

I in no way want to shock the British public

Prof von Hagens
It is coming to London later this month, and has sparked protests from MPs who say it is "ghoulish", while the government has said they may take legal action.

Although it is being held at an art gallery, it is not intended to be an art show, Prof von Hagens said, insisting that he only wants to show people how the body works.

"I in no way want to shock the British public," he said. "I want to educate them.

"It is certainly not an art show, it is an educational show, it is meant to give enlightenment."

The displays are said to prompt people to think about their health
The displays are said to prompt people to think about their health
The exhibition, called Body Worlds, has already been seen in countries from Japan to Germany, and has had a good response everywhere, he said.

"It's always the same in the beginning - there's a big controversy created by those who have not seen the exhibit."

Hollywood has taught us to expect gory and gruesome things when people see the human anatomy, he said.

"The main aim is to teach anatomy to the lay people, comparing normal and diseased organs to give them a better health awareness.

"It reminds them of mortality, but in a decent way, not in a shocking way."

Some 60% of people who visit the exhibition maintain a more healthy lifestyle after seeing things like the effects of alcohol on livers and smoking on lungs, Prof von Hagens said.

Body donations

He has not yet decided whether to include the most controversial exhibit, a pregnant woman with her womb opened to reveal a seven-month-old foetus, in the London show.

But she, along with the other body donors, agreed to let their bodies be seen by so many people, according to Prof von Hagens.

Those who donated the bodies knew they would be appearing in the exhibition
Those who donated the bodies knew they would be displayed
He discussed the idea with a man who appears riding a horse, whose skin is also stripped, for three years before he died.

Anatomical exhibits in museums around the world were the real "horror" shows because bodies could not be preserved well or displayed tastefully, he said.

Prof von Hagens invented a method of preservation called plastination, where the body tissues are saturated with special plastics, in 1977.

And about five people per day ask to donate their bodies to the exhibition when they die because people get so much out of looking at the bodies, he said.

Prof von Hagens is currently in touch with 10 young people with terminal illnesses who want their bodies to be displayed after their deaths, he said.

"If they know that they only have another year to live, it is very painful to imagine being buried.

"So they call me and donate their bodies. It's a present."

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Arts
MPs condemn body parts show
30 Jan 02 | England
Art for heart's sake
15 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
The art of anatomy
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