Intended for healthcare professionals


Scientist or showman?

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:468
  1. Debashis Singh

    Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibition has left London to move to Munich. Debashis Singh talked to the German anatomist about consent and controversy

    To many he is nothing more than a fedora-wearing ringmaster of a circus of cadavers. To others he is an accomplished anatomist who, through his invention of plastination (where body parts are preserved by saturating them with polymer resin), has brought an understanding of the human body to lay people.

    As we meet, newspapers report that Munich, the show's next destination, has banned the exhibition, forcing Gunther von Hagens to appeal. He is confident that the show will go ahead, attributing the ban to the conservative and strongly Catholic sensibilities of the region. We meet on the penultimate day of the exhibition in London's east end. Meeting von Hagens is like meeting Hannibal Lecter from the film Silence of the Lambs—both are fiercely intelligent and have a finely tuned appreciation of Renaissance art, opera, and philosophy and a passion for flaying dead bodies.

    In pictures he appears bloodless and stern, but in the flesh he is surprisingly normal. He has an honest, open face, smiles a lot, and has a conscientious manner.

    He wanted to be a doctor from the age of 6, when he spent six months in hospital with haemophilia A. “When I was 6 years old an artery in my forehead ruptured. My head was heavy and my face was wet with blood. I called the nurse and was rushed to the operating room. I heard the doctors say: …

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