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The Institute for Plastination Responds to the Bishop of Manchester's Media Blitz, Assertions, and Allegations About BODY WORLDS Anatomical Exhibition Coming to Manchester

MANCHESTER, England, Feb. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The Bishop of Manchester has made a series of serious allegations against Dr. Gunther von Hagens, former University of Heidelberg researcher, inventor of the science of Plastination, and creator of BODY WORLDS. In a press release dated the 04 February and at a Press Conference at Manchester Cathedral on the 05 February, the Bishop has castigated the forthcoming BODY WORLDS 4 exhibition, to be hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, from the 22 February to 29 June, 2008.

Because the Institute for Plastination recognizes and respects the rights of every individual to hold their own opinion about BODY WORLDS, it chooses to address at this time only those portions of his statement that are factually incorrect.

The specimens in BODY WORLDS exhibitions stem from a unique Body Donation Programme established in Heidelberg, Germany in 1982, and now managed by the Institute for Plastination (IfP), established in 1993. The IfP's body donation programme and protocols have been vetted by bio-ethicists, museum lawyers, and ad hoc ethics committees assembled by numerous venerable museums in the United States. All death certificates and donor consent forms of plastinates on display have been matched and verified. In October 2007, the Journal of Medical Humanities interviewed bio-ethicist Dr. Hans-Martin Sass of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, Washington D.C, who had travelled to Heidelberg in 2004 to examine the IfP's body donor files on behalf of American museums. Dr. Sass confirmed his earlier findings about donor consent and stated to the premier journal for medical researchers that he was satisfied with the Institute for Plastination's body donation programme.

The Institute for Plastination operates with complete transparency and openly provides comprehensive information about our body donation process and programme to all participating museums. With the exception of a small number of specimens in the BODY WORLDS exhibitions (specifically organs, body parts, and foetuses) that were acquired from established morphological institutes such as anatomy and pathology programmes, and historical anatomical collections, all of the specimens in BODY WORLDS are donated bodies, willed by donors, for the express purpose of serving BODY WORLDS' mission to educate the public about health and anatomy.

While other exhibits have revealed that they use unclaimed and found bodies originating from China, Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS has never obtained bodies from China or anywhere else for its exhibitions. Indeed, there are no Chinese plastinated bodies in Dr. von Hagens' exhibitions. In 2006, Dr. von Hagens transferred the preparation of human specimen plastination from Dalian, China to a new laboratory in Guben, Germany, leaving the China facility to focus exclusively on animal specimen preservation.

Currently, the Institute for Plastination has a donor roster of 8,688 individuals. The already deceased on the IfP's donor roster number more than 546. All IfP documents relating to donated bodies have been scrutinized and approved by several museum ethics committees including one formed by the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where BODY WORLDS exhibitions took place in 2005. The Ethics Review of the origins of bodies in BODY WORLDS -- conducted by the California Science Center in Los Angeles is available for download on our website

The Bishop voices concern that there will be a reduction in organ donation by those who see public anatomical displays, but offers only anecdotal evidence and speculation to support his claim. An independent, longitudinal, nine-venue exit survey of BODY WORLDS visitors formulated by Dr. Ernst-D. Lantermann of University of Kassel, Germany, updated in May 2006, found that 20% of visitors said that they were more willing to donate their organs after visiting the exhibition.

The Bishop also implies that visitors to BODY WORLDS are somehow coerced into registering as donors with the Institute for Plastination's Body Donation Programme before they leave the exhibition. This is patently untrue. In fact, those interested in considering becoming body donors can choose to pick up a postcard or register online at to request further information from the IfP about the body donation programme. Donors retain the right to revoke the bequeathal at any time.

It is disingenuous for The Bishop to intimate that anatomical exhibitions such as BODY WORLDS have origins in the Victorian freak show. Anatomical exhibitions originated in churches during the Renaissance, when the visionaries of that period believed that man's life was worthy of study and contemplation, and church leaders viewed anatomy and dissection as a window into God's work.

The Catholic Church in Germany has followed the work of Dr. von Hagens for more than two decades. In 1983, church leaders there asked Dr. von Hagens to plastinate and preserve the heel bone of St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 10th century beatified mystic revered in Germany. After Pope John Paul's death, there were many discussions in Europe surrounding preserving the body, and especially the heart, of the Pope through Plastination.

Though the mission of BODY WORLDS is the health education of lay people, it provokes philosophical and religious reflection in visitors. In the October 2007 Journal of Medical Humanities, authors Dr. Charleen Moore of the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at the University of Texas and Dr. C. McKenzie Brown of Trinity University, Texas who examined more than 70,000 visitor comments about BODY WORLDS wrote: "The vast majority of comments were overall quite positive in tone congratulating von Hagens for a fantastic experience and for his superb dissection that informed visitors about human anatomy and often thanking him, his co-workers, the sponsoring institutions, the donors and their families, and even God, for making the exhibit possible." For many visitors, Moore and Brown wrote, " ... both laypersons and the medically trained, it is also very much a kind of meditation hall where they are compelled to ponder deep assumptions about their own personal and social identity, their relationship to the universe and/or to God, and to the meaning and purpose of life." The comment books, according to Moore and Brown, "frequently mirror the social, political and ideological issues in contemporary society and we often find what amounts to running debates on especially controversial issues, serving as a microcosm of the culture wars currently fought in society at large."

BODY WORLDS invites viewers to reconsider the positions they embrace about fundamental issues such as the existence of God, the theory of evolution, and the moral certitude they have about pro-life and pro-choice beliefs. BODY WORLDS also forces them to see the fragility and vulnerability of the human body and question, if not surrender, irresponsible lifestyle choices. What could be more ethical than to allow people to confront their own mortality, ponder difficult philosophical questions, and motivate them to live in health and wellness, with inspiration as if each day were their last?

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