Published:  01:57 AM, 28 March 2017

Fascination of plastination: Story of Dr Gunther Von Hagen

Fascination of plastination: Story of Dr Gunther Von Hagen Gunther Von Hagens' Body Worlds, San Diego, California, 2009.

Gunther Von Hagens (born 1945) is a German dead body dealer. He has collected the corpses illegally from Siberia, outside of Russia. 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. 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, Germany, where the animal had died. Professionally Dr. Hagen is an anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination.

Plastination is a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts, first developed by Gunther Von Hagens in 1977.The water and fat are replaced by certain plastics, yielding specimens that can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most properties of the original sample. In November 1979, Gunther Von Hagens applied for a German patent, proposing the idea of preserving animal and vegetable tissues permanently by synthetic resin impregnation. Since then, Von Hagens has applied for further US patents regarding work on preserving biological tissues with polymers.

Mummification used by the Egyptians is a widely known method which involves the removal of body fluid and wrapping the body in linens. Prior to mummification, Egyptians would lay the body in a shallow pit in the desert and allow the sun to dehydrate the body. He worked at the University Heidelberg 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 in 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.

In 1995, the completed corpses had their first public outing in Tokyo at an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Japanese Anatomical Society. It was a sell-out - 550,000 people came. Two years later in Mannheim, for the first exhibition in Germany, he arranged the corpses in the now- familiar extravagant poses. People queued for up to eight hours, and 750,000 saw the exhibition. 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.

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. Stuart Jeffries writes in "The Guardian on March 19, 2002, under Title: "Naked and the dead" that Gunther Von Hagens' macabre exhibition has shocked and fascinated millions of people around the world. But most distressingly of all, at the denouement to the exhibition, there will be the bisected cadaver of an eight-month pregnant woman with her womb opened to reveal the foetus. Von Hagens always arranges the exhibition this way: it starts relatively mutedly with preserved body parts and ends with the emotional climacteric of this double tragedy, held for ever in suspended animation - thanks to the professor's revolutionary preservation technique called plastination.

Concern over consent of bodies being used in the plastination process has arisen. Over 20 years ago, Von Hagens set up a body donation program in Germany and has signed over 9,000 donors into the plastinate program: 531 have already died. The program has reported an average of one body a day being released to the plastination process. Ninety percent of the donors registered are German. Although Von Hagens says he follows strict consent procedures for whole-body specimens, he maintains that "consent is not important for body parts". Von Hagens' body donations are now being managed by the Institute for Plastination (IfP) established in 1993.

Since 2011, he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and the symptoms had grown so intense, so rapidly, that he could no longer keep them secret. There is no cure for his disorder, no way to prevent his brain from shrinking. 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. For an Interview in 2013, Daniel Engber Dr Hagen said: "When I cannot talk anymore, a red light goes on," he mumbles at last. "I think that it goes on now. The red light goes on now."

According to (TIME magazine 201) what plans do you have for the future? I've got 670 dead bodies and I've got a lot of ideas. I'm planning to expand the body-parts store and I want to set up a mail-order business, so people from all over the world who are interested can buy parts of the body with one click of the button. Whether it's a man in India or a woman in Brazil, I want to make it easy for everyone to get access to the human body.

As a child, he was diagnosed with a rare bleeding disorder that restricted his activities and required long bouts of hospitalization that he says, fostered in him a sense of alienation and nonconformity. At age 6, Von Hagens nearly died and was in intensive care for many months. His daily encounters there with doctors and nurses left an indelible impression on him, and ignited in him a desire to become a physician. He also showed an interest in science from an early age, reportedly "freaking out" at the age of twelve during the Russian launch of Sputnik into space. "I was the school authority and archivist on Sputnik," he said.

1969, attempted to cross the Czechoslovakian border into Austria and freedom, the authorities detained him. During my college in 1972-75 in Bodrunessa College, Dhaka, I have visited the Dhaka Medical College Reunion 1973 74. where the human dead bodies and its parts were displayed. It was very hard to see all around the exhibition because of stank of Formalin. The dead bodies were looked dried, in black or in coffee color. Some parts were conserved in bottles.

After so many years I have visited the "Body World Exhibition again in Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, Stuttgart, Germany, on 20 March 2017. The Exhibition will go till May 2017. I have seen a school group with the teacher, some young people. Not a lot of visitors. So I could observe the exhibition intensively.

Sure it is quite different from Dhaka Medical College Exhibition. In Germany display can look like plastic toys, it doesn't stink, like cadavers at the morgue. 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.

The popular display of body parts-real and fake-arrived in the US in the 1840s and had largely faded out by the 1920s. The writer is a Bangladesh-born  freelance journalist and media  researcher based in Stuttgart, Germany

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