Thursday, August 12, 2010


I recently declined an invitation to deliver a speech at the 1st Annual World Congress of Forensics that is to be held in October in Dalian, China. That is also the location where Gunther von Hagens prepares the plastinates for his BodyWorlds exhibitions, which have now been seen by 30 million people worldwide. As you may know, plastination involves dissecting a body to expose chosen anatomical features (3rd image), submerging it in a bath to replace the liquids with a polymer, posing it in the desired posture (2nd image), and gas-curing it under a plastic tent (3rd image). The private company that he founded in 2001 - von Hagens Dalian Plastination Ltd. - currently employs a staff of 250. Some of them are shown preparing individual organs (1st image) and Dr. von Hagens may be seen anatomizing a body (video here in German - caution) prior to plastinating, and displaying it.

Here's what I could find out about von Hagens' Dalian facility that the New York Times says "can only be described as a modern mummification factory." The sprawling campus is fenced and well-guarded. The buildings are unmarked and include a warehouse with stainless steel tanks containing animal and human corpses. There are several workshops in which medical school graduates prepare the bodies at an average salary of $200 to $400 a month. In some of these, the staff sits in assembly-line formation. In others, teams painstakingly dissect skinless corpses as they lay stretched out on tables. In the positioning room, dozens of workers place the body in what will be its final form and equip it with the props it needs to depict its designated activity. The large and sunny room is populated with plastinates in various states of readiness. With whole-body plastinates requiring a preparation time of 1,500 hours each, the staff is able to produce 30 per year. In spite of the efficiency, von Hagens assures, “Every specimen is an anatomical treasure.”

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