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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 April, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Loss of faith hits medicine
Christians do not believe the body matters after death

A decline in Christianity is taking its toll on the number of people willing to donate their organs for transplantation, according to a doctor.

Dr Mike Fitzpatrick will tell an audience at the Royal College of Physicians in London, that people are becoming too worried about keeping their bodies intact after death.

"This is partly to do with a decline in religion and a retreat to an almost pre-Christian period," he said.

"The Christians have little regard for the mortal coil, but when that sense is lost then people become pre-occupied about burying their body parts."


He said people had become far removed from the actual experience of death and had developed an almost morbid fascination with it.

"This is a sentimental outlook towards death. People are becoming obsessed with death and it is creating difficulties for medicine.

There has always been an obsession with the macabre death
Dr Mike Fitzpatrick

"Most people have not seen people who are dead as most people die in hospital.

"And because death is separate people have become more afraid of it and so the body has become more sacred.

"There has always been an obsession with the macabre."

The debate 'Morbid Fascination: the body and death in contemporary culture' will examine the complex and uneasy relationship that people have with their bodies.

It will hear that images of the human body often provoke a profound, visceral reaction in the viewer.


However, while many people are happy for this to be explored in art, they are not prepared for science to exploit the human body in the same way.

Thus millions of people have seen Gunter Von Hagen's Body Worlds exhibition - and many have volunteered to be part of his future exhibitions.

But at the same time there was a public outcry over the medical use of body parts at Alder Hey and Bristol hospitals.

"People are more interested in works of art than giving organs for donation," said Dr Fitzpatrick.

The Bishop of Warwick, Anthony Priddus, told the BBC that he agreed, saying that Christianity actively promoted helping others and the importance of the soul and disregarded the importance of the body after death.

"The body is a shell. It is like a beautiful butterfly coming out of a shell. It then leaves it behind. You do not need the body."

He agreed that people have a "morbid fascination" with death, but said this was understandable from a generation which has seen few dead bodies.


"I think this is the sort of fascination that goes with the screen, computer and television culture that makes things so remote. It is all one step removed."

Artist Jane Wildgoose, who is speaking in the debate along with Dr Fitzpatrick, said she would be exploring the way 24-hour TV has altered perceptions of death.

"It is very difficult to go through the day without having to see something terrible like the war in Iraq or a terrible accident."

She said that the key question was consent and whether people agreed to their bodies being used for either medical research or for art such von Hagen's exhibition.

'Morbid Fascination: the body and death in contemporary culture' organised by the Institute of Ideas and the Royal College of Physicians, takes place at 7.30pm on May 16.

Watchdog clears TV autopsy
27 Jan 03  |  Entertainment
Controversial autopsy goes ahead
20 Nov 02  |  Health
Hotline for Alder Hey youngsters
22 Mar 03  |  England
Legal battle over organ scandal
17 Jun 02  |  England
Memorial to Bristol heart babies
22 Apr 03  |  Bristol/Somerset

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