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Gunther von Hagens

Gunther von Hagens (born January 10, 1945) is an anatomist who invented the plastination technique to conserve specimen and is heavily involved in its promotion. He developed the Body Worlds exhibition of human bodies and body parts.


Von Hagens grew up in East Germany and studied medicine at the University of Jena. He was arrested after political protests and an attempt to escape to West Germany. West Germany bought his freedom in 1970 and he continued his medical studies, receiving a doctorate in 1975 from the University of Heidelberg. There he would work at the Institutes of Anatomy and Pathology as a lecturer for twenty years. He invented the plastination technique in 1977 and patented it in the following year.

Subsequently, he developed the technique further, founded the Institute of Plastination in Heidelberg in 1993 and developed his Body Worlds exhibition, which went on tour in 1996. He has been visiting professor in Dalian, China since 1996 and also directs a plastination center at the State Medical Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Von Hagens has said that his grand goal is the founding of a "Museum of Man" where exhibits of human anatomy can be permanently shown.


Von Hagens has been criticized as being sensationalist, in relation to his artistic plastination specimen and his possibly illegal public dissection in London in 2002. Some religious groups are opposed to all exhibitions of human cadavers. He does not seem to be deterred by controversies and has often made detailed public statements about his positions.

Legal accusations

Von Hagens has a guest professorship from Dalian Medical University and a honorary professorship from Bishkek State Medical Academy. In publications, he often uses the title "Professor". In 2003, the University of Heidelberg initated legal action him, claiming that he had misrepresented himself as a professor from a German university in a Chinese document, and that he had failed to state the foreign origin of his title in Germany. Von Hagens disputes this.

Also in 2003, an animal rights organization filed a complaint alleging that von Hagens did not have proper papers about a gorilla that he had plastinated. The Hanover zoo, where the animal had died, gave the cadaver to him. Von Hagens stated that he has all required paperwork.

Hamburg prosecutors investigate charges of disturbing the dead, based on his photographing plastinated corpses late at night all over Hamburg.

There are legal proceedings against von Hagens in Siberia regarding a shipment of 56 corpses to Heidelberg.

In October 2003, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan investigated accusations that von Hagens had illegally received and plastinated several hundred corpses from prisons, psychiatric institutions and hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, some without prior notification of the families. Von Hagens himself testified at the meeting; he said he had received nine corpses from Kyrgyzstan hospitals, none had been used for the Body Worlds exhibition, and that he was not involved with nor responsible for the notification of families.

Further Reading