(A glimpse into my life as a Vanderbilt medical student)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Organ Donors and Art Shows



"I have a historic mission to fulfill." – Gunther von Hagens. Mad man or artistic genius, you make the call. After eight years of touring Europe, Mr. von Hagens’ cadaveric sideshow Body Worlds has finally made the trans-Atlantic trip to California and will be on display from July 2nd to January 23rd. So buy your tickets quickly because Mr. von Hagens' proprietary plastination process isn’t completely effective and this may be a limited time offer.

For those of you who have not heard of the exhibit, Mr. von Hagens has constructed a display vaguely reminiscent of a scene from The Cell (minus JLo) where skinned human bodies are posed in various activities and impregnated with a preserving plastic. While this might sound like art to some and perversion to others, it certainly raises some important issues regarding both the appropriate use of cadavers and the role of the human body in society.

A Wired magazine article concerning the exhibition as well as the donation page on Mr. von Hagens’ own website make me wonder whether these specimens fully understood what their bodies were going to be used for after they died. If I knew, going into the whole donation process, that my naked body was going to be skinned, cut in half, hung from the ceiling, and subjected to a continual barrage of “size” jokes by every middle schooler in California, I might think twice about my decision.

Let’s go ahead and assume, however, that these bodies were donated by individuals fully aware of their post-mortem artistic journey. What then is the benefit to society due to this exhibit? (I guess if I were a true art aficionado, I wouldn’t care. Child porn was a big hit several years ago…see Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model by the Chapman Brothers …but I digress) When asked this same question, the artist evoked his liberation of anatomy from the clutches of the repressive medical society (my own biased paraphrase). While I agree that his works may inspire some to pursue a career in medicine…or serial killing…I wonder if there is a more sensitive way to inspire youngsters.

In all honesty, I am not too worked up about the whole exhibit. I wish there was more emphasis on the importance of organ donation for research and medical instruction than on the entertainment value of bisected pregnant women. However, the article also mentions an organ petting zoo where the kids can feel soot filled lungs and cirrhotic livers. Apparently, Mr. von Hagens ultimately realizes that his work does convey some social responsibility and if his bodies can be used to save the lives of future generations, it’s ok with me.

PS: To all my loyal readers, sorry about the lateness of this post. Blogger has been down all day.

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