Bodies... The Exhibition

There have been multiple exhibitions of these type we know of.

The show is operated by Premier Exhibitions which displays cadavers arranged in lifelike poses via plastination from the Dalian Medical University (through its Dalian Medical University Plastination Company subsidiary) in China.

The Second Hospital of Dalian Medical University is suspected for the crimes of organ harvesting and illegal liver and kidney transplantations.

This show appeared in the following 84 places: Albuquerque, Amsterdam, Athens, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Barcelona, Belgrade, Bogotá, Boise, Branson, Bratislava, Brisbane, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Burlington, Chicoutimi, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cluj-Napoca, Columbus, Concepción, Córdoba, Detroit, Dublin, Durham, Tartu, Fort Lauderdale, Gdansk, Greensboro, Haifax, Hartford, Honolulu, Houston, Idaho Falls, Indianapolis, Istanbul, Jaffa, Kraków, Las Vegas, Lexington, Lisbon, Ljubljana, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, Montreal, New York, Niagara Falls, Omaha, Ostena, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Prague, Providence, Puerto Rico, Romania, Quebec City, Recife, Riga, Rotterdam, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose (Costa Rica), San Salvador, Santiago de Chile, São Paulo, Seattle, Shreveport, Sofia, Tampa, Tegucigalpa, Tel-Aviv, Timisoara, Toledo, Tucson, Tulsa, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Washington DC, Winnipeg, Zagreb, and Malaka.


Body Worlds (German title: Körperwelten) is a traveling exposition of dissected human bodies, animals, and other anatomical structures of the body that have been preserved through the process of plastination. Gunther von Hagens developed the preservation process which "unite[s] subtle anatomy and modern polymer chemistry", in the late 1970s.

A series of Body Worlds anatomical exhibitions has toured many countries worldwide, raising controversies about the sourcing and display of actual human corpses and body parts. Von Hagens maintains that all human specimens were obtained with full knowledge and consent of the donors before they died, and his organization keeps extensive documentation of this permission. Von Hagens emphasizes both educational and artistic aspects of his complex and innovative dissections, and offers online teaching guides for educators. He also tries to distinguish his efforts from those of competitors who may have been less thorough in obtaining advance permission from their specimen sources.


The exhibit states that its purpose and mission is the education of laymen about the human body, leading to better health awareness. All the human plastinates are from people who donated their bodies for plastination via a body donation program. Each Body Worlds exhibition contains approximately 25 full-body plastinates with expanded or selective organs shown in positions that enhance the role of certain systems.

To produce specimens for Body Worlds, von Hagens employs 340 people at five laboratories in three countries, China, Germany and Kyrgyzstan. Each laboratory is categorized by specialty, with the China laboratory focusing on animal specimens.

One of the most difficult specimens to create was the giraffe that appears in Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life. The specimen took three years to complete – ten times longer than it takes to prepare a human body. Ten people are required to move the giraffe, because its final weight (like all specimens after plastination) is equal to the original animal.

More than 200 specimens of real human organs and organ systems are displayed in glass cases, some showing various medical conditions. Some of the specimens, such as the Tai Chi Man, demonstrate interventions, and include prosthetics such as artificial hip joints or heart valves. Also featured is a liver with cirrhosis and the lungs of a smoker and non-smoker are placed side by side. A prenatal display features fetuses and embryos, some with congenital disorders.


Body Worlds exhibitions have received more than 37 million visitors, making them the world's most popular touring attraction.

Body Worlds
was first presented in Tokyo in 1995. Body Worlds exhibitions have since been hosted by more than 50 museums and venues in North America, Europe and Asia.

Body Worlds 2 & The Brain – Our Three Pound Gem
(concerning the brain and nervous system) opened in 2005 at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. As of September 2010 it is showing at the Telus World of Science in Vancouver.

Several Body Worlds exhibits (as well as Von Hagens himself) were featured in the 2006 film Casino Royale. Among the plastinates featured were the Poker Playing Trio (which plays a key role in one scene) and Rearing Horse and Rider.

Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart
(concerning the cardiovascular system) opened on 25 February 2006, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. On 9 July 2009 this show appeared at the Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York. As of May 2010, it is showing at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colorado.

Body Worlds 4
debuted 22 February 2008 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in England and was in the Cureghem Cellars in Brussels until March 2009.

Body Worlds & The Mirror of Time
(featuring human development and aging) debuted at The O2 in London in October 2008.

Körperwelten & Der Zyklus Des Lebens
(The cycle of life) opened in Heidelberg in January 2009.

Body Worlds Vital
was inaugurated at the Universum museum of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2012.

Regulatory framework

Czech Republic

In July 2008, the Czech Senate passed a law to address illegal trading in human tissue and ban "advertising of donation of human cells and tissues for money or similar advantages".


On Tuesday 21 April 2009, a French judge ruled concerning the Paris exhibition of Our Body: The Universe Within, that exhibiting dead bodies for profit was a "violation of the respect owed to them". "Under the law, the proper place for corpses is in the cemetery", said Judge Louis-Marie Raingeard. Raingeard ordered the exhibition to close within 24 hours or face a fine of 20,000 euro (over 26,000 dollars) for each day it stayed open. The judge also ordered authorities to seize the 17 bodies on display and all of the organs on display from an unknown number of people for proper burial. Gunther Von Hagens issued a press statement denying any connection between the closed Chinese exhibition and his Body Worlds franchise. Similar exhibitions had already been successfully staged in Lyon and Marseille.

United Kingdom

England and Wales

The UK Parliament created legislation for exhibits of human remains, including plastinated bodies and body parts, in England and Wales under the Human Tissue Act 2004. This requires a licence to be granted by the Human Tissue Authority. The Human Tissue Act superseded the Anatomy Act 1832, which had been found by an independent commission (The Redfern Report)to be inadequate on contemporary collection and use of human tissues, following the Alder Hey organs scandal. In March 2008, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry was granted such a licence to hold Body Worlds 4 and a further licence was granted to the exhibition in the O2, London, in 2008.


The Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 (pdf) – which amended the Anatomy Act 1984 – covers Scotland. Under the terms of this Act, licences for the handling of human remains, including display, must be granted directly by the Scottish Ministry.

Subsection 9: If the Scottish Ministers think it desirable to do so in the interests of education, training or research, they may grant a license to a person to publicly display the body or, as the case may be, the part, and a person is authorized under this subsection to so display a body or a part of a body if, at the time of the display he is licensed under this subsection.

Various organizations gave evidence to the Scottish Executive during the consultation process, including the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Wellcome Trust, and the Museums Association.

United States

Various legislation has been proposed and enacted in different American states. Most proposals concentrate on issues regarding the sale of human remains and the consent of the donors.

National legislation on consent and tissue donation issues is expressed in the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (2006) passed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws which states that "an anatomical gift of a donor's body or part may be made during the life of the donor for the purpose of transplantation, therapy, research, or education" and prohibits trafficking in donated human organs for profit.

In early 2008, former U.S. Republican Representative W. Todd Akin proposed an amendment to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 to "make it unlawful for a person to import plastinated human remains into the United States." The President of the American Association of Anatomists has expressed concern that the scope of the act is "too broad" and that

"Preventing importation of all plastinated specimens could severely restrict their use for medical education."

. The bill of amendment was not enacted during the 2007–2008 Congressional session.


California's proposed bill AB1519 (Ma), sponsored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, tried to "require exhibitors to get a county permit; to do so, they would have to prove to county health officials that the people whose cadavers were on display — or their next of kin — had consented".

Assembly Bill 1519 would have made California the first state to require such proof. It was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on 26 September 2008.


The state of Florida prohibits the sale or purchase of human remains and :

"Authorizes certain science centers located in this state to transport plastinated bodies into, within, or out of this state and exhibit such bodies for the purpose of public education without the consent of this state's anatomical board if the science center notifies the board of any such transportation or exhibition, as well as the location and duration of any exhibition, at least 30 days before such transportation or exhibition".


In January 2009, Rep. Marcus Oshiro introduced two bills prompted by presentation of the BODIES Exhibition in that state.

HB28 Relating to Dead Human Bodies would add to the prohibition against buying dead human bodies, the selling of dead human bodies and defines the term "dead human body" to include plastinated bodies and body parts. It would increase the fine for buying or selling a dead human body to up to $5,000.

HB29 Relating to Dead Human Bodies. Would prohibit the commercial display of dead human bodies without a permit from the Department of Health.

New York

In June 2008, New York State Senate passed legislation regulating body exhibits. A bill that was sponsored by Senator Jim Alesi requires anyone showing an exhibit that uses real human bodies in New York museums to produce a permit detailing their origin.


Representative Mike Fleck's proposed bill would require evidence of informed consent from the decedent or relatives of all humans whose remains are put on display.


The state of Washington considered a bill that would:

"require written authorization to display human remains for a commercial purpose"


Religious objections

Religious groups, including representatives of the Catholic Church and some Jewish rabbis have objected to the display of human remains, stating that it is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body.

Sex plastinate

In 2003, while promoting a display in the Hamburg Museum of Erotica, von Hagens announced his intention to create a sex plastinate. In May 2009 he unveiled a plastinate of a couple having sex, intended for a Berlin exhibition.

Lessening donor organ availability

In 2007, the Bishop of Manchester launched a campaign to coincide with the opening of Body Worlds in that city, accusing the exhibitors of being "body snatchers" and "robbing the NHS", arguing that donation of bodies for plastination would deprive the National Health Service of organs for transplant. The site included a government petition calling for "a review of the law regarding the policies and practices of touring shows involving corpses".


Organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China

Consent is a primary focus of discussion. In January 2004, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that von Hagens had acquired corpses of executed prisoners in China; von Hagens countered that he did not know the origin of the bodies, and returned seven disputed cadavers to China. In 2004, von Hagens obtained an injunction against Der Spiegel for making the claims. Paul Harris, director of North Carolina's State Board of Funeral Services, has stated:

"Somebody at some level of government ought to be able to look at a death certificate, a statement from an embalmer, donation documents... That's a reasonable standard to apply."

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) said:

"These displays do have important educational benefits, but using bodies against a person's will is unacceptable".

Questions raised regarding deceased hospital patients from Kyrgyzstan and executed prisoners from China – were categorically stated to have never been used in a Body Worlds exhibition, according to BodyWorlds. Five years ago, customs officers intercepted 56 bodies and hundreds of brain samples sent from the Novosibirsk Medical Academy to von Hagens' lab in Heidelberg, Germany. The cadavers were traced to a Russian medical examiner who was convicted last year of illegally selling the bodies of homeless people, prisoners and indigent hospital patients. Von Hagens was not charged with any wrongdoing, and says his cadavers are obtained only through proper legal and ethical channels.

An Ethical Commission set up by the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2004 had the following members:

They determined that:

"All the bodies need to be properly donated. Advisors felt that this is the most controversial aspect of the project. Proper body donation should be verified to the Science Center's satisfaction, and involves several components. Several advisors reviewed the Body Donor and felt it should be reviewed to ensure that it meets an adequate standard of disclosure and informed consent. They recommended that the form should be clear to make sure the bodies in the exhibit consented to public display. The source of donated bodies should be verifiable; Ask an independent party to review donor forms, verifying that all bodies are donated properly.; Communicate to guests, near the entrance of the exhibit, that the bodies are donated."

As an ethical concern, consent is not regulated worldwide according to the same ethics.

"That paperwork is then separated from the bodies, which can be used for displays or sold in pieces to medical schools. No one will know for sure, because each plastinated corpse is made anonymous to protect its privacy."

Hans Martin Sass, a philosophy professor with a speciality in ethics, was hired by the California Science Center to investigate Body Worlds before the show's U.S. debut in 2004. He matched over 200 donation forms to death certificates, but he did not match the paperwork to specific bodies von Hagens has on display.

Import law concerns

International trade experts have objected to the way in which bodies for commercial display are imported, because the way their categorization codes (as "art collections") do not require Centers for Disease Control stamps or death certificates, both of which are required for medical cadavers. In most countries plastinated human specimens are classified under Customs Classification Code 97050000.48 "items in anatomical collections". This customs code encompasses "zoological, botanical, mineralogical or anatomical collections or items in such collections."

Ethical concerns about cadaver displays

In an ethical analysis, Thomas Hibbs, professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University, a private Baptist-affiliated institution, compared cadaver displays to pornography, in that they reduce the subject to

"the manipulation of body parts stripped of any larger human significance."

In a 2006 lecture entitled "Plasti-Nation: How America was Won", Lucia Tanassi, professor of medical ethics and anthropology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explored questions for ethicists regarding this new scientific frontier. Tanassi called it provocative that ethics committees have contributed to the popularization of the exhibits without setting forth any process of a line of inquiry, pointing to an ethics report from the California Science Center. As part of that review, bioethicist Hans Martin Sass was sent to Heidelberg to match donor consents with death certificates.

Concerns have been expressed about the educational aspects, especially the inclusion of these displays for school field trips. St. Louis Diocese Archbishop Raymond Burke strongly suggested that Catholic Schools avoid scheduling field trips, stating that parents, and not children, should retain the freedom of deciding whether or not their children will view the exhibit. Concerned with how "some kids process" these "graphic" images, Des McKay, school superintendent in Abbotsford, British Columbia (near Greater Vancouver), barred field trips to exhibits of plasticized human beings. In an editorial to the Abbotsford News, Rev. Christoph Reiners questions what effect the exhibits will have on the values of children attending for school field trips. Others—such as the Catholic Schools Office of Phoenix—acknowledge the educational content of Body Worlds. Reporting on the exhibition at the O2 bubble in 2008/2009, Melanie Reid of The Times stated "(Body Worlds) should be compulsory viewing for every child of 10 or over"

Press limitations

Von Hagens maintains copyright control over pictures of his exhibits. Visitors are not allowed to take pictures, and press photographers are required to sign agreements permitting only a single publication in a defined context, followed by a return of the copyright to Von Hagens. Because of a similar agreement applied to sound bites (O-Töne, in German) a German press organization suggested that the press refrain from reporting about the exhibition in Munich in 2003 .

Selling plastinates

The Body Worlds website offers plastinated pieces for sale. There are a wide range of products from plastinated fruit jewelry to entire humans. Although some of the pieces require purchasers to be a qualified user—those intending to use the pieces for "research, educational, medical or therapeutic purposes" — many pieces, including animal testicles and baby chicks, require no authorization. There are also extremely realistic plastinate impressions of human hearts and slices (including one slice of copulating humans) for sale to the general public.


The success of Body Worlds has given rise to several similar shows featuring plastinated cadavers, including

Some of these contain exhibits very similar to von Hagens' plastinates; Von Hagens has asserted copyright protection, and has sued Body Exploration and Bodies Revealed. The suits were based on a presumed copyright of certain positions of the bodies, but the counterparty asserts that the human body in its diversity cannot be copyrighted.

Such lawsuits have not stopped the competition. While the Korean police in Seoul confiscated a few exhibits from Bodies Revealed, the exhibition went on successfully.

Several of the competing exhibitions have been organized by the publicly traded US company Premier Exhibitions. They started their first Bodies Revealed exhibition in Blackpool, England which ran from August through October 2004. In 2005 and 2006 the company opened their Bodies Revealed and BODIES... The Exhibition exhibitions in Seoul, Tampa, Miami, New York City, and Seattle. Other exhibition sites in 2006 are Mexico City, Atlanta (GA), London, Great Britain and Las Vegas (Nevada).

Unlike Body Worlds, none of the competing exhibitions or their suppliers have a body donation programme. Dr. Roy Glover, a spokesperson for BODIES... The Exhibition said all their exhibits use unclaimed cadavers, deposited at the University of Dalian by Chinese authorities. In May 2008, a settlement with the attorney general of New York obliged Premier Exhibitions to offer refunds to visitors when it could not prove consent for the use of the bodies in its exhibitions. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo commented:

"Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals. Nor is Premier able to establish that these people consented to their remains being used in this manner."

Bodies: The Exhibition

Bodies... The Exhibition is an exhibition showcasing human bodies that have been preserved through a process called plastination and dissected to display bodily systems. It opened in Tampa, Florida on August 20, 2005. It is similar to, though not affiliated with, the exhibition Body Worlds (which opened in 1995). The exhibit displays internal organs and organic systems, bodies staged in active poses, and fetuses in various stages of development.

The show is operated by Premier Exhibitions which presents and promotes similar exhibits including "Bodies Revealed", and "Our Body: The Universe Within", and other entertainment exhibits.

Concerns have been raised (especially among Catholics) about the bodies' origins, about the ethics of having human remains on display, and about the ethics of allowing children to view displays containing human remains.


This show appeared in the following 84 places: Albuquerque, Amsterdam, Athens, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Barcelona, Belgrade, Bogotá, Boise, Branson, Bratislava, Brisbane, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Burlington, Chicoutimi, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cluj-Napoca, Columbus, Concepción, Córdoba, Detroit, Dublin, Durham, Tartu, Fort Lauderdale, Gdansk, Greensboro, Haifax, Hartford, Honolulu, Houston, Idaho Falls, Indianapolis, Istanbul, Jaffa, Kraków, Las Vegas, Lexington, Lisbon, Ljubljana, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, Montreal, New York, Niagara Falls, Omaha, Ostena, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Prague, Providence, Puerto Rico, Romania, Quebec City, Recife, Riga, Rotterdam, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose (Costa Rica), San Salvador, Santiago de Chile, São Paulo, Seattle, Shreveport, Sofia, Tampa, Tegucigalpa, Tel-Aviv, Timisoara, Toledo, Tucson, Tulsa, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Washington DC, Winnipeg, Zagreb, and Malaka.

Exhibit organization

The exhibit is set up so that one starts at the skeletal system, and more layers (muscular, nervous, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems; as well as fetal development and the treated body) are added in successive rooms. Containing about twenty bodies in total, each exhibition uses real human bodies that have been preserved permanently by a process called "polymer preservation" (commonly referred to as "plastination") so that they will not decay. This exhibition is organized by the publicly traded corporation, Premier Exhibitions Incorporated, which also staged Bodies Revealed first in Seoul, South Korea and more recently in the US. The company received the cadavers for research from the Chinese government, who donated them because all the bodies at the time of death had no close next of kin or immediate families to claim the bodies. The dissections took place at the Dalian University in Liaoning, China and the resulting specimens were leased to Premier Exhibitions for the five-year duration of the show.

Some of the specimens are arranged so that they are performing activities such as playing poker or conducting an orchestra. Along the way are other displays showing a human intestine stretched out, the polluted lung of an adult smoker, and all of the arteries and veins without the body itself. The exhibit of the polluted lung of the smoker also includes a clear standing box in which guests can discard their cigarettes and tobacco products after viewing the display. In the Las Vegas exhibit, there was also a polluted lung of a fetus on display. One section includes several fetuses in various stages of development. All of the fetuses died due to miscarriages, and the disorders which caused each are highlighted on most of the displays. Guests are notified by a small sign at the exhibit of the sensitivity of the fetus gallery just before entrance into the area, and given the option to skip that room if so desired.

Preservation of the bodies and organs

The bodies are prevented from decay by means of plastination, a rubberization process patented in the 1970s by anatomist Gunther von Hagens. The essence of the process is the replacement of water and fatty material in the cells of the body first by acetone and then by plastics, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin.

Ethical concerns
Organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China

Concerns have been raised (especially by Catholics) about the provenance of the bodies and the ethics of viewing human remains, especially for children. In an editorial, Lutheran Reverend Christoph Reiners questioned the effect on the values of children. Prior to the 2005 U.S. premiere, the Florida Attorney General expressed the opinion that the State Anatomical Board’s approval should be required. The Board fought the Tampa exhibit, with its director expressing the opinion that the exhibit should be shut down. Premier Exhibitions officials disagreed, claiming that the Board had jurisdiction only over medical schools and not museums; the exhibit opened two days ahead of schedule at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. From 2006, The New York Times and the 20/20 television program have published reports on a "black market" in Chinese cadavers and organs, sparking a Congressional inquiry, an investigation by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the resignation of Premier's CEO Arnie Geller. As the result of the Cuomo investigation and subsequent settlement in 2008, the front page of the exhibition website displays a disclaimer about the presumed origin of the bodies and fetuses, saying that it "relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners" and "cannot independently verify" that the bodies do not belong to executed prisoners. Both the human rights activist Harry Wu (Laogai Research Foundation) and the director of the Human Rights in China advocacy group have objected to the exhibit on these grounds.

A science education coordinator for the Carnegie Museum of Science resigned her position over the exhibit, citing her religious beliefs, questions about provenance, and a general repugnance for putting "human remains" on exhibit. Professor Anita Allen, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, argued spending money to "gawk" at human remains should raise serious concerns. Thomas Hibbs, Baylor University ethicist, compares cadaver displays to pornography in that they reduce the subject to "the manipulation of body parts stripped of any larger human significance." Even if consent were to be obtained, Rabbi Danny Schiff maintains that we should still question what providing "bodies arranged in showcases for a hungry public" says about a society.

In 2017 in Czech Republic, during the time of the exhibition Body The Exhibition taking place in Prague at the Exhibition Grounds in Holesovice, four doctors and four non-profit organizations issued a statement about the ethical and human rights concerns. The statement called upon the organizers to present a consent of the donors of the displayed bodies, if such a document exists. It also expressed concerns about the possibility, that the bodies may come from prisoners of conscience in China. The local police in Prague rejected a suggested ban of the exhibition and a burial of the bodies as proposed by Prague 7 district mayor Jan Cizinsky, who also appealed at the Chinese Embassy, asking to bury the bodies.

Gunther von Hagens

Gunther von Hagens (born Gunther Gerhard Liebchen; 10 January 1945) is a German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination.

Early life

He was born Gunther Gerhard Liebchen in Alt-Skalden (now called Skalmierzyce) near Ostrowo, Reichsgau Wartheland, in German-annexed Poland. At the age of five days his parents took him on a six-month trek west to escape the imminent Soviet occupation. Gunther grew up in East Germany. The family lived briefly in Berlin and its vicinity, before finally settling in Greiz, a small town where von Hagens remained until age nineteen. A haemophiliac, as a child he spent six months in hospital after being injured. This stimulated an interest in medical science and in 1965 he commenced studies in medicine at the University of Jena. While at the university, von Hagens began to question Communism and Socialism, and widened his knowledge of politics by gathering information from non-communist news sources. He participated in student protests against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. In January 1969, disguised as a vacationing student, von Hagens made his way across Bulgaria and Hungary, and on 8 January attempted to cross the Czechoslovakian border into Austria. He failed, but made a second attempt the next day, at another location along the border. He was arrested and punished with two years in jail.

Von Hagens emigrated to West Germany in 1970. Hagens continued his medical studies in Lübeck and received a doctorate in 1975 from the University of Heidelberg.


He worked at the University in the Institutes of Anatomy and Pathology as a lecturer for 22 years.

Dr von Hagens is best known for his plastination technique, which he invented in 1977 and patented it the following year. Subsequently, he developed the technique further, and founded the Institute of Plastination in Heidelberg in 1993. He has been visiting professor in Dalian, China, since 1996, where he runs a plastination center, and also directs a plastination center at the State Medical Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Since 2004 he is also guest professor at New York University College of Dentistry.

For the first 20 years plastination was used to preserve small specimens for medical study. It was not until the early 1990s that the equipment was developed to make it possible to plastinate whole body specimens, each specimen taking up to 1,500 man-hours to prepare. The first exhibition of whole bodies was displayed in Japan in 1995. Over the next two years, von Hagens developed the Body Worlds exhibition, showing whole bodies plastinated in lifelike poses and dissected to show various structures and systems of human anatomy, which has since met with public interest and controversy in more than 50 cities around the world.

Religious groups, including representatives of the Catholic Church and some rabbis, have objected to the display of human remains, stating that it is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body.

The exhibition, and von Hagens' subsequent exhibitions Body Worlds 2, 3 and 4, have received more than 26 million visitors all over the world.

To produce specimens for the Body Worlds exhibition, von Hagens employs 340 people at five laboratories in four different countries. Each laboratory is categorized by speciality, with the China laboratory focusing on animal specimens. The giraffe which appeared in "Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart" was one of the most difficult specimens to create. The giraffe took three years to complete – 10 times longer than it takes to prepare a human body. Ten people were required to move the giraffe because its final weight, like all specimens after plastination, was equal to its original.

The Body Worlds exhibits were featured in a supposed Miami exhibition in the 2006 film Casino Royale, although the actual location for the exterior shots was the Ministry of Transport in Prague. Von Hagens himself makes a cameo appearance, and can be seen leading a tour past where James Bond kills a villain.[citation needed] Von Hagens has developed new body sectioning methods that yield very thin slices, which can then be plastinated. The slices can be used for anatomy studies. He is also developing similar techniques for larger specimens such as an elephant. He works in a concealed laboratory, with an entrance behind a movable staircase, where he developed his wafer plastination techniques.

Personal life

Von Hagens describes himself as an agnostic, believing that the human mind is not constructed to answer such a question and instead puts all his faith into the human body.

He is married to Angelina Whalley, the Creative Director of the Body Worlds exhibitions. He has three children from his first marriage and also retains the surname von Hagens, which is that of his first wife. When appearing in public, even when performing anatomical dissections, von Hagens always wears a black fedora (a reference to the hat worn in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt).

Von Hagens has said that his grand goal is the founding of a "Museum of Man" where exhibits of human anatomy can be permanently shown. He is on record as commenting that after death he plans to donate plastinated wafers of his body to several universities, so that in death he can (physically) teach at several locations, something that he cannot do while alive. In January 2011, he announced that he was dying from Parkinson's disease and that after his death his wife would plastinate his body and put his preserved corpse on display as part of the Body Worlds exhibitions.


In 2002 von Hagens performed the first public autopsy in the UK in 170 years, to a sell-out audience of 500 people in a London theatre. Prior to performing the autopsy, von Hagens had received a letter from Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy, the British government official responsible for regulating the educational use of cadavers. The letter warned von Hagens that performing a public autopsy would be a criminal act under section 11 of the Anatomy Act 1984. The show was attended by officers from the Metropolitan Police, but they did not intervene and the dissection was performed in full. The autopsy was shown in November 2002 on the UK's Channel 4 television channel; it resulted in over 130 complaints, an OFCOM record, but the Independent Television Commission ruled that the programme had not been sensationalist and had not broken broadcasting rules.

In 2003 TV Production Company Mentorn proposed a documentary called Futurehuman in which von Hagens would perform a series of modifications on a corpse to demonstrate "improvements" to human anatomy. The controversy was sparked when the company, with von Hagens, appealed publicly for a terminally ill person to donate his body for the project. The documentary was cancelled after the body donor pulled out.

In February 2004, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung confirmed earlier reports by the German TV station ARD that von Hagens had offered a one-time payment and a lifelong pension to Alexander Sizonenko if he would agree to have his body transferred to the Institute of Plastination after his death. Sizonenko, reported to be one of the world's tallest men at 2.48 m (8 ft 2 in), who formerly played basketball for the Soviet Union and was later plagued by numerous health problems until his death in 2012, declined the offer.

After several legal challenges to the Body Worlds exhibit in Germany, in the Summer of 2004 von Hagens announced it would be leaving the country. From 2004 onwards the exhibitions toured North America, returning to Europe in 2007 with an exhibition in Manchester, UK, and ending in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2011.

Television appearances

In 2005 Channel 4 screened four programmes entitled Anatomy for Beginners, featuring von Hagens and pathology professor John Lee dissecting a number of cadavers and discussing the structure and function of many of the body's parts.

A four-part follow-up series entitled Autopsy: Life and Death aired on Channel 4 in 2006, in which von Hagens and Lee discussed common fatal diseases (circulatory issues, cancer, poisoning from organ failure, and ageing) with the aid of dissections.

In November 2007, another series of 3 programmes was shown entitled Autopsy: Emergency Room, showing what happens when the body is injured, and featuring presentations by the British Red Cross.

In 2009 History Channel broadcast a series called Strange Rituals with eleven episodes. The first episode titled Last Rites featured von Hagens and his plastination method to preserve bodies.

On Easter Sunday 2012 the UK's Channel 4 showed a programme entitled Crucifixion in which von Hagens created his interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus. The documentary examined the enduring iconic image of the Crucifix. A number of donors were used for the plastination of blood vessels to create the main structure of the body. At the end of the programme von Hagen announced that he did not expect to see the final work of art due to his ill health.

Legal accusations

In 2002 there were legal proceedings against a senior pathologist and coroner in Siberia regarding a shipment of 56 corpses to Heidelberg. The police maintained that the Novosibirsk coroner, Vladimir Novosylov, had sold the bodies illegally to buyers outside of Russia. Von Hagens was not charged in the case, but was called as a witness against Novosylov. The authorities stopped the shipment of bodies and the agreement between Novosibirsk and von Hagens was terminated.

In October 2003, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan investigated accusations that von Hagens had illegally received and plastinated several hundred corpses from prisons, psychiatric institutions and hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, some without prior notification of the families. Von Hagens himself testified at the meeting; he said he had received nine corpses from Kyrgyzstan hospitals, none had been used for the Body Worlds exhibition, and that he was neither involved with nor responsible for the notification of families. In 2003, an animal rights organization filed a complaint alleging that von Hagens did not have proper papers for a gorilla he had plastinated. He had received the cadaver from the Hanover Zoo, where the animal had died.

In 2003, the University of Heidelberg filed a criminal complaint against von Hagens, claiming that he had misrepresented himself as a professor from a German university in a Chinese document, and that he had failed to state the foreign origin of his title in Germany. After a trial, he received a fine in March 2004. On 25 April 2005, a Heidelberg court imposed a fine of 108,000 euros (equivalent to a prison term of 90 days at the daily income assessed by the court) for one count of using an academic title that he was not entitled to, but acquitted him on four other counts. On appeal a higher court in September 2006 reduced the penalty to a warning with a suspended fine of 50,000 euros, which under German law is not deemed a prior criminal conviction. In 2007 the charge of title misuse was finally dismissed by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany in Karlsruhe.

Von Hagens has a guest professorship from Dalian Medical University and an honorary professorship from Kyrgyz State Medical Academy. He is also a Guest Professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.

German prosecutors declined to press charges, and von Hagens was granted an interim injunction against Der Spiegel in March 2005, preventing the magazine from claiming that Body Worlds contain the bodies of executed prisoners.


Dissection as a way of acquiring medical knowledge existed since the ancient world, but during the Renaissance, increasingly widespread clandestine practices of post-mortem dissection led to fears that victims, especially the poor and outcast, would be murdered for their cadavers. During his years at the University of Padua, Andreas Vesalius made it clear that he had taken human remains from graveyards and ossuaries for his classic anatomical text De humani corporis fabrica. Both he and his successor, Gabriele Falloppio, were rumored to have practiced human vivisection, although these rumors were not substantiated; however, Falloppio himself reported that he was asked by the judicial authorities to carry out an execution on a condemned criminal, whose cadaver he then dissected. During the 18th century, prominent British obstetrician William Smellie was accused of obtaining cadavers for his illustrated textbook on childbirth through murder. In 1751, Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie were convicted of murdering John Dallas, aged 8 or 9, and selling his cadaver to medical students in Edinburgh.

The great expansion in medical education in Great Britain in the early 19th century as a result of the Napoleonic Wars led to increased demand for cadavers for dissection. Body-snatching became more widespread, and local communities reacted by setting guards around graveyards. In 1828, Parliament convened a select committee to examine the means by which cadavers were obtained for medical schools. Ironically, this was the same period when the most notorious of the anatomy murders were carried out by William Burke and William Hare. They killed 16 people over the course of a year, selling the cadavers to the anatomist Robert Knox. Two years later, the London Burkers, John Bishop and Thomas Williams, murdered a boy identified as Carlo Ferrari and attempted to sell his cadaver to a London surgeon.

The most recent account of anatomy murders was in 1992, when a Colombian activist, Juan Pablo Ordoñez, claimed that 14 poor residents of Barranquilla, Colombia, had been killed to provide cadavers for the local medical school.[8] One of the alleged victims managed to escape from his assailants and his account was publicized by the international press.


The difficulty of prosecuting cases of anatomy murders arises because of the difficulty of obtaining evidence. The victims are generally marginal and do not have anyone to report their disappearance. The cadavers, which may show evidence of homicide, are destroyed by dissection. Those dissecting the bodies may believe that they have been obtained legitimately, or may have a vested interest in keeping their practices quiet.

For these reasons, legislation from the 19th century on has focused on removing the motive for murder by providing legal sources of cadavers for medical research and teaching. In Great Britain, the Anatomy Act of 1832 provided for cheap, legal cadavers by turning over the bodies of those who died in caretaker institutions to medical schools. Although there were public protests at using the bodies of the poor as raw material for medical students, proponents of the Act were able to use fear of burking in order to get it passed. The Massachusetts Anatomy Act of 1831 was also inspired by the anatomy murders.

It is clear that the legislation reduced the demand for illegally obtained cadavers and may have acted as a deterrent against grave-robbing, as the latter practice persisted in localities without adequate provision for cadavers to dissect. It is likely, however, that the main deterrent against anatomy murders was the increasing sophistication of forensic science from the 19th century onward.

Murder for dissection and study

An anatomy murder (sometimes called burking in British English) is a murder committed in order for all or part of the cadaver to be used for medical research or teaching. It is not a medicine murder because the body parts are not believed to have any medicinal use in themselves. The motive for the murder is created by the demand for cadavers for dissection, and the opportunity to learn anatomy and physiology as a result of the dissection. Rumors concerning the prevalence of anatomy murders are associated with the rise in demand for cadavers in research and teaching produced by the Scientific Revolution. During the nineteenth century, the sensational serial murders associated with Burke and Hare and the London Burkers led to legislation which provided scientists and medical schools with legal ways of obtaining cadavers. Rumors persist that anatomy murders are carried out wherever there is a high demand for cadavers. These rumors are hard to substantiate, and may reflect continued, deep-held fears of the use of cadavers as commodities.

Plumbing the Murky (and Crowded) World of Cadaver Displays (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5637687&t=1548349380312)
What amazed me were not the plastinates alone, incredible though they were. I was astonished that a good four months after the opening, I was unable to buy tickets. The show was sold out for nearly the entire weekend. I had to stay until late Sunday to attend the show. And although the museum made a point of staggering visitors' entries, putatively to ensure a quiet atmosphere, I found myself in a mob scene. I couldn't even get close to many of the plastic cases displaying human organs. Some of the plastinates were impossible to see, thanks to the tight knots of grown-ups, kids and baby carriages around them.
Origins of Exhibited Cadavers Questioned
For two years now, exhibitions of human cadavers have been traveling the country, shown in science museums and other spaces. The shows, featuring corpses that have been preserved and solidified through a process called plastination, have been wildly successful. But they also have been dogged by criticism.

Cadaver Exhibits Are Part Science, Part Sideshow
Over the past two years, millions of Americans have flocked to exhibitions that display actual human corpses. The bodies have undergone a treatment called plastination, which hardens and preserves them. For the most part, the skin has been removed, and muscles and organs are exposed.
Although this may not seem like a fun family activity, the exhibits have been wildly successful -- and profitable -- for the science museums and other venues that have hosted them.