Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist famous for his controversial Body World exhibition displaying plastinated bodies, has provoked a fresh storm of criticism in Germany after announcing plans for an online store selling human body parts.
Mr von Hagens, who enjoys the nickname “Doctor Death” because of his highly publicised shows, which display fleshless human corpses that have been injected with plastic resin, revealed his plans for internet expansion in a letter to his clients.
Mr von Hagens has insisted however that his products will not be available to the general public, and will be sold only to scientists and medical experts. A whole body from an online plastinated body parts shop, Plastination Products, costs about £62,000, torsos start at £49,000 and heads come in at around £19,500 each – excluding postage and packaging.
For those on a tighter budget, transparent body slices are available from £102 each. Only ‘qualified users’ who can provide written proof that they intend to use the parts for research, teaching or medical purposes can place an order.
His plans have provoked angry criticism from Germany’s Roman Catholic Church, and further condemnation of the project is almost certain to follow. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch appealed to politicians to ban the online store, insisting that Mr von Hagens was “breaking a taboo”.
Dismissing Mr von Hagen’s repeated claims that his plastinated bodies are of scientific value, the archbishop said the idea showed lack of respect for the dead. “This is not about new discoveries but about picking at bones and creating a spectacle under the guise of medical enlightenment,” he said.
Mr von Hagens, who likes to dress in black and is almost always seen in public wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, has been a source of controversy since he developed his plastination technique more than a decade ago. The process involves removing body fluids and fat from human corpses and replacing them with plastic resin.
In 2002, Mr von Hagens went ahead with the first public autopsy held in Britain for 170 years despite concerns that he would be arrested. In 2004 he was accused of using the bodies of executed prisoners sold to him by China.
He subsequently returned seven corpses which had injuries to the head because he could not prove that they had not been executed.
After opening a series of provocative Body Worlds exhibitions showing human bodies in various poses, Mr von Hagens went a stage further in May last year when he displayed two plastinated bodies having sex, in an exhibition entitled “Cycle of Life”.
The show prompted a cross-party group of German MPs to demand that the exhibition be withdrawn. However virtually all attempts to stop his exhibitions have failed.
Mr von Hagens recently reopened his “Plastinarium”, a factory in the east German state of Brandenburg which turns out plastinated corpses and employs 200 workers.
Attempts to stop the plant going ahead were overruled because it provided jobs in a region suffering from high unemployment. Mr von Hagens has long since become a millionaire. [Plastination Products via Independent (UK) and Reuters]