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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 07:24 GMT
Police report on public autopsy
Von Hagens and corpse
The body was a 72-year-old German man
Police and coroners' officials are to prepare a report for prosecutors after the professor behind the Bodyworlds exhibition conducted the first public autopsy in London for 170 years.

Officers who attended the dissection of a German man by Gunther von Hagens in an east London art gallery will pass their file to the Crown Prosecution Service who will consider whether to press charges.

Professor von Hagens - famous for his Bodyworlds art exhibition of corpses preserved by "plastination" - had been warned the autopsy on unlicensed premises would constitute a criminal offence.

My aim is to educate people

Professor Gunther von Hagens
In front of a capacity crowd of 500 at London's Atlantis Gallery paying 12 a ticket, he went ahead with the procedure despite the threat of arrest.

The autopsy was filmed and broadcast later on Channel 4. It attracted 1.2m viewers despite starting at 2345 GMT.

However, 100 people had logged complaints with Channel 4 by lunchtime on Thursday, and 15 complained to the Independent Television Commission.

Professor von Hagens had been warned he was in breach of the Anatomy Act, but as he made the first incision in the chest of the corpse, there were no attempts to stop him.

Scotland Yard has confirmed their officers and other officials did attend the event.

Anatomy professors

The preparing and filing of their report for the CPS's consideration is likely to take a few days.

Among the audience were anatomy professors, asked to attend and monitor proceedings by Scotland Yard.

Some in the medical establishment branded Wednesday night's spectacle "degrading and disrespectful", although the professor hailed it as a huge success.

Asked if it was unethical, he said: "Don't ask me, ask the audience. Their behaviour was more respectful than what I often experienced in my autopsies which I did in front of medical students in university.

"I would have liked very much that this had gone ahead without this big controversy. My aim is to educate people."

Prof von Hagens' subject was a 72-year-old man who had donated his body to the German doctor's Bodyworlds exhibition.

The audience was told he had been a businessman who started drinking heavily and smoking at the age of 50.

His organs will be taken back to Germany after the post-mortem to be "plastinated" to form part of the Bodyworlds exhibition, the professor said.

Professor von Hagens insisted he was making a stand for the "democratisation of anatomy".

'Entertainment value'

But Dr Michael Wilkes, head of the BMA's Ethics Committee, said he hoped the public autopsy would not be repeated.

"The entertainment value was pretty high for some people, with possibly some educational value as well, but it was more of a sensational event and I don't think the limited education aspect justifies the degrading and disrespectful way in which it was done."

He dismissed the Bodyworlds exhibition as "grotesque" and said Wednesday's autopsy made "a sham" of arguments that it was in the interests of public education.

The autopsy was shown on giant screens inside the east London art gallery.

With a waiting list for tickets that was more than 1,000 long, around 200 hopefuls were left disappointed outside the gallery in the rain.

Audience's gasps

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "Police have received about 30 complaints so far from members of the public."

There were gasps from the audience as the professor cut into the head of the body and sawed through the skull with a hacksaw.

After opening the chest, Prof von Hagens stuck his hand in deep and, with the help of a colleague, pulled up a huge portion of innards.

Many viewers covered their mouths and noses as the stench from the open body filtered into the auditorium.

The professor left as the body was still being sewn up to conduct a live television interview, but insisted he was not "a circus performer".

The BBC's Chris Hogg
"Professor von Hagens had drawn a large crowd"

Bodyworlds bodyBody art
Should autopsy doctor be prosecuted?

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