The Plasticians: Death is not The End
October 10, 2018 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Gunther von Hagens developed the preservation process of plastination in the late 1970s, which "unite[s] subtle anatomy and modern polymer chemistry." The result was not only a preservation process that improves medical teaching, but also allowed for the creation of Gunther's Body Worlds exhibits. Now, suffering from Parkinson's disease, which he says is "like practising dying," von Hagens wants to be plastinated when he dies, where his wife, fellow anatomist Dr. Angelina Whalley said she will eventually join him on display. Gunther has asked his wife to transform him into an exhibit. “It’s somehow finalising his life’s work,” she said. “I understand now that it’s more an appreciation and an expression of love for me to do it.”
posted by filthy light thief (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
The two main articles are from The Guardian's Death and Dying section, a sub-set of Life and Style, which seems rather poignant and beautiful.

The semi-accidental soundtrack to the post: Plastician's electronic, bass-focused tracks on Soundcloud (he's not related to this post, beyond the title, due in part to his stage name getting lodged in my head some years back).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:29 AM on October 10


Roy Rodgers famous horse Trigger was an honored centerpiece at his museum, Roy would quip "Just stuff me and put me up on Trigger after I'm gone". So a more serious but perhaps not unique personal request.
posted by sammyo at 5:49 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Jeremy Bentham would have liked this. He suggested that people should have themselves preserved after death, so that families could keep collections of the "auto-icons" of their ancestors. His own auto-icon is kept on display at University College London, and occasionally appears at college council meetings (but doesn't vote).
posted by Fuchsoid at 6:15 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


Jeremy Bentham would have liked this.

That link needs a nightmare fuel warning tag or something. Ok, ok, it's not that bad but holy moly.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:27 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Another precursor to von Hagens' exhibits were the creations of the 17th-century Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch (previously).
posted by misteraitch at 6:35 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I learned about Jeremy Bentham in one of the mummy books I had as a kid. Later, in high school and college, I had to study his ideas, and I have never yet been able to consider them without picturing Bentham’s head. It’s probably what he would have wanted.

I thought I had read that von Hagens had died. It sounds like he’s hanging in there, as opposed to hanging suspended from wires in a box, and I am glad for him, and that he has a family that supports and participates in his vision. I sometimes regret missing Body Worlds when it came through Boston, but at the time I was concerned that some of the bodies had been sourced from Chinese political prisoners and other non-consenting donors.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:44 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Wow, I was sure this was going to be a look at the various web communities that spawned off of Plastic.com after its eventual death.
posted by verb at 6:49 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


TIL that a self-proclaimed "utilitarian" insisted that we keep both his skeleton, dressed up in a suit, with a fake head, and also his actual severed head, under glass.
posted by Rat Spatula at 6:53 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]


“One word: plastics.”
posted by mfoight at 6:56 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


TIL that a self-proclaimed "utilitarian" insisted that we keep both his skeleton, dressed up in a suit, with a fake head, and also his actual severed head, under glass.

It certainly provides me with the greatest happiness.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:31 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]


He suggested that people should have themselves preserved after death, so that families could keep collections of the "auto-icons" of their ancestors

I don't think my dating life would be improved if I had an entire room full of my dead ancestors. Then again, maybe it would be...
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:41 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


For a long while there I wanted to be plastinated and had all the paperwork filled out and ready to go. I've since changed my mind and would like to be cremated after any useable organs have been harvested and then scattered at a certain location near Donner Summit.

Also don't knock Jeremy Bentham. He was a great thinker, atheist, supported equal rights for women, advocated for animal rights, and favored the decriminalization of homosexuality. Utilitarianism's fundamental axiom is "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong". The Auto-Icon is a bit weird, but Bentham was a great man.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:45 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]




AFAIK, Body Worlds (von Hagens' exhibit) has not used executed prisoners since the initial discovery -- not that this makes the origins of the exhibit better, but he's discontinued the practice and removed the questionable corpses from the exhibit.

BODIES...The Exhibition, on the other hand, still uses Chinese prisoners in its display.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:59 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


(but doesn't vote).

So far.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:12 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Ugh. No thanks. Do not want to see the exhibit either.
posted by mermayd at 8:49 AM on October 10


There are all sorts of dubious things about Body Worlds. Having seen the show and observed those who are visiting it, I would cast doubt on its claims of educational value. It's more a combination carnival side show, conceptual art exhibit, and buffet of death voyeurism.

Body Worlds gives you a dessicated , distorted, cubist view of the human body that has nothing in common the warm, full, pulsating and multicolored appearance of an actual body as viewed during major surgery -- or for that matter, the body as seen in autopsy or medical student wet labs. It's teaching value is nil.

Body Worlds turns the human body into something alien, and that may account for some of its impact. If you really want to learn about anatomy, any modern anatomy textbook, or the hundreds of great websites teaching anatomy and biology will teach you much more. And if you want blood and guts, there are plenty of great surgery videos on You Tube.

A Body Worlds exhibit smells funny, in more ways than one.
posted by Modest House at 8:49 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


I would cast doubt on its claims of educational value. It's more a combination carnival side show, conceptual art exhibit, and buffet of death voyeurism.

This would not be my take. If you seek carnival side show, conceptual art exhibit, and buffet of death voyeurism, then it can be found at any anatomy textbook, website, or, for dogssakes, YouTube. I found Gunther von Hagens work more like 3D Frank Netter works. Educational value is where you find it.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:33 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much his Parkinson's has to do with years of exposure to plastinating chemicals.
posted by jamjam at 9:33 AM on October 10


I've been saying for almost ten years that I want to be plastinated and shot into space upon my death. I want the rocket that propels me to be called Vesuvius 1.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:49 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


This is a good a place as any to state I've always wanted my ashes to be attached to skyrockets and shot into the sky at a terrific party, preferably in a desert away from everything burnable. I have yet to budget the funds for this soiree but it's sure to be a fun adios pour moi.
Plastination...not so much.
posted by diode at 10:26 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Portland's OMSI has an exhibit, "Beginning the Journey," that is a display of preserved human embryos and fetuses from across the entire gestation cycle. The museum states clearly that each embryo/fetus is the result of an unfortunate natural accident/condition and an honorable donation.

And I get it. The building has "science" right in the name. I still feel it's terrible.

Because, I just have the sneaking suspicion that some poor-and-desperate woman had a conversation that went like this: "We did everything we could. We're very sorry for your loss. Here's fifty bucks."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:27 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Body Worlds gives you a dessicated , distorted, cubist view of the human body that has nothing in common the warm, full, pulsating and multicolored appearance of an actual body as viewed during major surgery -- or for that matter, the body as seen in autopsy or medical student wet labs. It's teaching value is nil.

These two sentences do not follow as obviously as you imply here. For one thing, the warm, full, pulsating appearance of a body viewed during surgery is not necessarily as easy for a budding anatomy student to orient themselves to--particularly given the wash of blood leaking everywhere, distracting the inexperienced eye and often jolting the inexperienced and weaker stomachs. Prepared anatomical specimens and models are invaluable for allowing inexperienced viewers--both museum patrons and students--to understand just how it is that the body's parts exist on their own, so that they can be reassembled in the mind into the complex, living whole. The delicate cloud of the capillary system; the massive processes of the spine; sometimes we need to understand these parts in isolation for reasons that don't necessarily boil down to completing surgery, too.

I share all the same ethical concerns as anyone else about the procurement of these samples and tissues both historically and currently, but I would happily donate my own body to one--or the tissue of my own embryo, in the event of a miscarriage--so that other people can learn from the shell of my own misfortune. I cannot be the only person out there who feels this way, and indeed: from the FPP, we know that I am not.
posted by sciatrix at 10:35 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


I thought this might have been related to DC comics' notoriously UNserious superhero, PlasticMan, who was absent for a while but recently returned as part of a new "super team". But then, Plas was always more closely related to Marvel's Mr. Fantastic, Hasbro's Stretch Armstrong and The Incredibles' Elastigirl.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:25 AM on October 10


There's a plastinated man permanently installed in the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. It is really in need of a dusting.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:09 PM on October 10


Long after the planet has been rendered lifeless by our addiction to fossil fuel usage as predicted (the production of plastics being a big part of this), will these plastinated bodies remain forever as part of all that trash as some sort of weird, ironic memorial to human life?
posted by kinnakeet at 2:36 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


There was an odd court cases in New Zealand recently involving a man who stole a couple of plastinated toes from a Body Works exhibit in Auckland and posted pictures of them on Instagram. He was charged with theft and interfering with human remains but the judge gave him a discharge without conviction:
He said he was concerned that there was an issue with Williams facing the two charges.

He said higher courts had decided that a body had no monetary value so a charge of theft was not right while if it was not a body anymore because of the plastination process it had undergone for exhibition then the interfering charge could not stand.
So apparently plastinated organs are legally human remains, which means you can't steal them because they aren't property, but they're also not human remains for legal purposes in another sense. The judge also suggested that any indignity offered to a plastinated corpse by a vandal/thief was nothing compared to that of the process of plastination and public display itself.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:46 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


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