German ″Doctor″ Denies Using Executed People in Work | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.01.2004
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German "Doctor" Denies Using Executed People in Work

Gunther von Hagens, who preserves human bodies to exhibit them, has denied using corpses of executed Chinese in his shows. Hagens' critics meanwhile reiterated claims that the exhibitions violate German law.


Von Hagens maintains that no corpses of executed Chinese were exhibited in Body Worlds.

Wearing his signature fedora, the controversial German doctor defended his business practices after German news magazine Der Spiegel raised questions about his work in a cover story this week. "I have not turned corpses of the executed into exhibits," Hagens said, but added that he couldn't guarantee that bodies of executed people had never been dropped off at his production facility in Dalian in northeastern China.

A common Chinese practice?

Accepting unidentified bodies from the police was common practice at Dalian University's institute for plastination, Hagens said, adding that his company worked closely with the institute. Plastination is the technique developed by Hagens to turn corpses into odorless and durable exhibits by draining out bodily fluids and fat and replacing them with plastic.

Taking these so-called "ownerless bodies" is "a completely normal thing to do and was customary in Germany until the 1980s," Hagens told reporters in Frankfurt, where "Body Worlds" is currently on show. He added that he had instructed his employees not to accept bodies of the executed any more.

Der Spiegel had reported that at least two bodies included in an inventory list of Hagens' Dalian facility had bullet holes in their heads. "But not every corpse with a bullet hole has been executed," he said, implying that some might have been victims of a crime.

Documents made available to the German news magazine, however, show that Hagens knew for at least two years that executed bodies were used in his work. According to Der Spiegel, a former employee of the Dalian institute threatened to go to the Chinese media with the "true story" of the fresh corpses, but was then silenced with a large sum of money.

Körperwelten von Gunther von Hagens

A plastinated figure plays chess in the Basel exhibit of Body Worlds.

Critics question exhibition's legality

While members of the German Hospice Foundation gathered outside the Frankfurt exhibition to express their protest with coffins and candles, others were equally critical of Hagens' work.

Uwe Volkmann, a law professor in Mainz in central Germany, said the show violated German cemetery and burial laws, dpa news agency reported. The German Society for Pathology added that Hagens violates the rules of ethics in medicine.

A Munich city official told reporters that Germany needed to introduce a new law regulating plastination. "There are many people who want to be plastinated," said Wilfried Blume-Beyerle. The courts need to decide whether this is a new form of undertaking and what the ethical boundaries are, he said.

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