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body shell

Body Worlds

Body Worlds (German title: Körperwelten) is a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts that are prepared using a technique called plastination to reveal inner anatomical structures. The exhibition's developer and promoter is a German anatomist named Gunther von Hagens, who invented the plastination technique in the late 1970s at the University of Heidelberg.

Body Worlds was first presented in Tokyo in 1995. Body Worlds exhibitions have since been hosted by more than 47 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.

Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart (concerning the cardiovascular system opened on February 25, 2006, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Body Worlds 4 debuted February 22, 2008 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in England.

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

More than 25 million people have seen one of the Body Worlds exhibits.

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 enhanced the role of certain systems. More than 200 specimens of real human organs and organ systems are displayed in glass cases, some showing various medical conditions.

Some of the bodies include prosthetics such as artificial hip joints or heart valves. Also featured is a liver with cirrhosis. The lungs of a smoker and non-smoker are placed side by side. A prenatal display features fetuses and embryos, some with congenital disorders.

All exhibits are accompanied with detailed descriptions and audio guides with the option of beginner or advanced (for laymen or medical professionals, respectively).

To produce specimens for Body Worlds, von Hagens employs 340 people at five laboratories in four countries. 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 appeared in Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart. The speciment took three years to complete – ten 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.

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".

Selected exhibits

The body shell has been laterally separated into two halves. However, the inner organs have been left in their original positions either in the left or right body half. On the corresponding side and opposite each organ, cavities indicate the position, form and size of the organs that have been removed. The vertebrae can thus be seen in the left half, with the oesophagus in front, and the liver and the intestines in the abdominal cavity. The inter-vertebral disks can be seen in the right half, as well as the uterus with the ovaries and Fallopian tubes in the pelvic cavity.

A man, standing is holding up his body's skin; the largest and heaviest of human organs. The pose of this Plastinate intentionally recalls images of St. Bartholomew seen in Christian religious art.

Shortly after the arrow leaves her bow, an archer shows tension in virtually all the muscles of her body. In order to show as much anatomy as possible, the extremities have been partly expanded particularly the origins of the thigh muscles. The head has been opened to demonstrate the housing of the brain and the dura mater.

This sitting specimen shows the spinal cord and the detailed pathways of nerves branching off it. The spinal cord and brain comprise the central nervous system. This system controls and integrates body functions. It is very well protected, embedded in three tough sheets of connective tissue. The spinal cord is also enclosed in the backbone. From between the vertebrae 31 pairs of spinal nerves connect the spinal cord to the rest of the body. The bundle of nerves at the base of the spine is the cauda equina the 'horse's tail'. The two sciatic nerves run from the lower spine behind the hip joint down the leg. They are the largest and longest nerves in the body.

  • Reclining Pregnant Woman* (Body Worlds 1)

A woman reclining on her side with her arm raised to reveal her cut away torso, and 8-month foetus – with its position and effect on her internal organs. The Body Donor chose to donate her body for Plastination – with the foetus, if it could not be saved – when she discovered that she had a terminal illness. This figure is usually displayed in a closed-off area of the exhibition, along with other displays concerning human reproduction and development.

This exhibit shows the variety of interventions and appliances available to modern surgeons and technicians, which make it possible to repair the damage resulting from injuries, illnesses, or inherited conditions. These include artificial joints at the knee and elbow; a replacement jawbone; bone repairs to the left wrist and shinbone; metal pins stabilising fractures in the thighbone and upper arm; metal plates in the skull; stabilising structures applied to the spine; and a pacemaker.

  • The Smoker (Body Worlds 1)

Two systems are displayed – the skeletal system on the left, and the muscular system on the right. Combined, these form the locomotive system. The internal organs are partly visible on the left hand side, protected by the bones and muscles of the body cavity. One blackened lung is exposed, to show one of the effects that smoking has on the body. Visitors sometimes leave packets of cigarettes at this display.

A man performs a skateboarding move on a ramp. Because of his upside down position, insight is given into the anatomy of the lower half of the body. The strong gluteal muscles are folded aside to reveal the sciatic nerve passing along the pelvis. The patellar tendons in the knee have been moved aside to show the deeper layers with their corresponding nerves.

The Basketball Player is posed as if running down the court, with the skull opened to expose the brain. This Plastinate gives special emphasis to the well-developed musculature, especially the large back muscles, which can be seen at the rear of the abdominal cavity.

  • The Muscleman and his Skeleton* (Body Worlds 1)

Displays a man's musculature and skeleton side by side in the same pose. Both systems came from a single body donor The relationship of the skeleton to the muscular structure - which rely on each other to give us stability and movement - is shown.

The horse and rider group shows the comparative anatomy of two very different mammals. In particular, the two brains are juxtaposed. It is the unique human brain that enables man to exert his will over the much larger and more powerful horse. To create this mega-Plastinate - inspired in part by the extraordinary work of 18th Century anatomist Honore Fragonard – took a team of twenty people more than 8,000 man-hours, and cost in excess of 300,000 euros. Unlike most plastinates, whose identities and backgrounds have been kept private, it has been publicly revealed that the man preserved as the horse rider was a journalist who once covered Body Worlds; upon learning that he had a terminal illness, he arranged to be preserved as part of the exhibit.

The brain consumes 15 – 20% of the body's oxygen supply, although it accounts for just 2% of the body weight. The brain receives its blood supply via two pairs of arteries (the Carotid and the Vertebral) and all four are connected to one another in such a way that if one artery becomes blocked, the flow of blood can be diverted to protect the endangered area of the brain. These complex and beautiful structures are exposed by injecting a red dye and plastinating agent into the blood vessels, then using chemicals and ultrasound to dissolve away the flesh and bone, leaving only the circulatory system behind.

The Yoga Lady shows unusually strong musculature all over the body. A combined dissection of the extremity muscles has been performed by lifting the superficial muscle layers away from the deeper layers, to show their complexity.

Body slices – in many dimensions and thicknesses – have proven to be one of the most instructional developments in Plastination. As the technique becomes increasingly sophisticated the level of detail in the plastinated slices has become microscopic – more detailed and informative even than ultrasound scans. Because of this, more scientific developments and discoveries can be traced back to the study of these body slices than almost any other plastinated form.

Plastination allows for completely new kinds of anatomical dissection that cannot be achieved by any other means – in this case, dissection by expansion. The anatomical structures are opened and shifted apart creating artificial spaces which allow all the organs of the body to be studied, even those which normally overlap one another. For example, the left upper arm, the extensor muscles that stretch out the arm were left with the front part, while the flexor muscles bending the arm are with the rear part. Extended body views like this are only possible with Plastination, since it gives the tissues the necessary stability.

An adult male comprises 40 – 50% skeletal muscle – the muscles attached to the skeleton. Muscles are used to stand or move. Every muscle can expand and contract, but skeletal muscles are the only ones we can also move voluntarily – as football players do when they try to score a goal. The more the muscles contract, the shorter they are. This Plastinate shows the interplay between surfaces and intermediate muscles when they work together in movement.

Featured in the 2006 film Casino Royale (set in Miami, but actually shot in Prague). The three presentations differ as much as poker playing strategies. In the player on the right, both parietal bones were lifted to make the brain visible from behind. The brain has been horizontally sectioned and folded out. Beneath it is the cerebellum, below which the spinal cord is visible inside the vertebral canal. In the player on the left, the abdomen has been opened, giving a view of the intestinal loops. The unusual and striking head of the central figure was created by separating the frontal bone and cheekbones from the posterior skull bones. In Casino Royale, a villain makes use of this display to hide an item; the film is centered around a poker game, creating a thematic link to the display.

Regulatory framework

Human Tissue Act

Two of the countries or states to create specific legislation for Plastination exhibits are England and Wales under the Human Tissue Act 2004. This requires a licence to be granted by the Human Tissue Authority. In March 2008, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry was granted such a licence to hold Body Worlds 4.

Separate legislation exists in Scotland where human remains can be held and exhibited in museums specifically recognised by the Scottish Museums Council:

Human Tissues Act (Scotland) Act 2

This legislation covers the whole museum community in Scotland - and various bodies 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.

Czech Republic

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".

Various legislation is proposed in the U.S. - most proposals concentrate on the issues of sale of human remains, and the consent of the donors.

California, United States

California's proposed bill AB1519 (Ma), sponsored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, would "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 make California the first state to prohibit the commercial profit and public display of human bodies or remains, unless exhibitors provide documented informed consent of the deceased or next-of-kin.

Florida, United States

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.

New York, United States

In June 2008, New York became the first state to pass 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.

Pennsylvania, United States

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.

Washington, United States

The state of Washington considered a bill that would "require written authorization to display human remains for a commercial purpose.

Controversies

The shows have been surrounded by controversy for a number of reasons. Various religious groups, including the Catholic Church and some Jewish Rabbis have objected to the display, stating that it is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body.

All whole body plastinates exhibited in Body Worlds came from donors who gave informed consent via a unique body donation program. In the case of children, informed consent is obtained from the parents. Some fetal specimens come from established morphological collections. Bodies from deceased persons who did not give consent – such as prison inmates and hospital patients from Kyrgyzstan and executed prisoners from China – have never been used in a Body Worlds exhibition. In January 2004, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that von Hagens had acquired corpses of executed prisoners in China; he countered that he did not know the origin of the bodies, and eventually cremated several of the disputed cadavers. 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".

A commission set up by the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2004 confirmed von Hagens' commitment to ethical practices, and published an "ethical summary" document. They matched death certificates and body donation forms, and verified informed legal consent of the bodies in the exhibitions. However, to ensure the privacy and anonymity promised to body donors, von Hagens' Institute for Plastination maintains a firewall between body donors' documentation and finished plastinated bodies. To date, more than 9,000 individuals have pledged to donate their bodies to the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg.

Body Worlds has been accused of perpetuating gender stereotypes. Male plastinates are presented in masculine roles (such as The Horseman, The Muscleman and his Skeleton, The Fencer, The Runner, and The Chess Player), while some female plastinates are shown in feminine roles (such as The Ballerina; Reclining Pregnant Woman, a plastinate whose womb is exposed to show her unborn child; and Angel, whose feet are posed as if wearing high heels). However, some women are portrayed as athletes, namely The Swimmer, The Figure Skater and The Archer.

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 an ethical analysis, Thomas Hibbs, professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University, 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 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 (a suburb of Vancouver), barred field trips to exhibits of plasticized human beings. In an editorial to the Abbotsford News, Rev. Christoph Reiners questions what affect 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.

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 this, a German press organization suggested that the press refrain from reporting about the exhibition.

Exhibition schedule

Includes past, present, and future exhibitions

Body Worlds 1 - The Original Exhibit

Body Worlds 2 & The Brain – Our Three Pound Gem

Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart

Body Worlds 4

Body Worlds & The Mirror of Time

Competitors

The success of Body Worlds has given rise to several similar shows featuring plastinated cadavers, including BODIES... The Exhibition and Our Body: The Universe Within in the United States, Bodies Revealed in England, Body Exploration in Taiwan, Mysteries of the Human Body in South Korea, Jintai Plastomic: Mysteries of the Human Body in Japan, Cuerpos entrañables in Spain.

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 Inc. 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).

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.

References

Further reading

  • Pushing the Limits - Encounters with Gunther von Hagens. Biography. Ed. Angelina Whalley 2005. In English.
  • Body Worlds - The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies by Gunther von Hagens Amazon-UK ASIN: B000Q2MCDU
  • No Skeletons in the Closet - a response to corpse scandals in Kyrgizstan 13 November 2003
  • Franz Josef Wetz, Brigitte Tag (eds.): "Schöne Neue Körperwelten, Der Streit um die Ausstellung", Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2001. Sixteen authors discuss the various ethical and aesthetical aspects of Body Worlds, in German.
  • Liselotte Hermes da Fonseca: Wachsfigur - Mensch - Plastinat. Über die Mitteilbarkeit von Sehen, Nennen und Wissen, in: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte (1999), Heft 1.
  • Doms, Misia Sophia: Die Ausstellung „Körperwelten“ und der Umgang mit der endlichen Leiblichkeit. In: Volkskunde in Rheinland Pfalz 17/1 (2002). S. 62-108.
  • Liselotte Hermes da Fonseca und Thomas Kliche (Hg.): Verführerische Leichen – verbotener Verfall. "Körperwelten" als gesellschaftliches Schlüsselereignis, Lengerich u.a.: Pabst Verlag 2006
  • Cambridge University Press: Advise and Consent'.
  • Auf Leben und Tod Beiträge zur Diskussion um die Ausstellung "Körperwelten" Reihe: Schriften aus dem Berliner Medizinhistorischen Museum, Bogusch, Gottfried; Graf, Renate; Schnalke, Thomas 2003, VII, 136 S. 62 Abb., Softcover ISBN 978-3-7985-1424-9

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