Healthy Living: Local News
Exhibit of human bodies coming to Anchorage in September
Story Updated: Jan 11, 2012
The first exhibit in Alaska of human bodies preserved using "plastination" will be exhibited at the Anchorage Museum this year. An announcement from the museum on Wednesday said "Body Worlds Vital" will be displayed from Sept. 28 to Jan. 6, 2013.
Exhibits of human specimens have proved fascinating to the public. Millions of people around the world have attended such shows.
Focus groups and surveys of Anchorage museum-goers indicated that it was the kind of exhibit respondents wanted to see, said Anchorage Museum Director and CEO James Pepper Henry, who has worked for four years to bring the show to Alaska. "I'd say 50 to 60 percent had this as their No. 1 pick," he said.
"Body Worlds Vital" is one of several anatomical shows using real human bodies produced by Gunther von Hagens, the German scientist who patented the plastination technique in 1979.
The process uses plastic to replace water and fat in tissue, yielding decay-resistant specimens that retain most properties of the original sample but can be touched by researchers and do not smell. Specimens treated in this manner are useful in teaching anatomy and are credited by some with reducing the numbers of animals killed for medical instruction.
As museum attractions, the displays have drawn controversy. Some religious leaders have decried what they see as an undignified treatment of human remains.
Questions have also been raised concerning whether the bodies are legitimately obtained. "BODIES... The Exhibition," a well-traveled show using cadavers from China and not associated with von Hagens' organization or "Body Worlds" exhibits, has been accused by some of possibly displaying the corpses of human rights activists executed by the Chinese government.
"The circumstances are pretty murky" with regard to those bodies, Pepper Henry acknowledged. The producers of "BODIES" are "pretty up front about the fact that these are Chinese prisoners," he said.
In contrast, in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio, von Hagens denied ever using unclaimed bodies, bodies from mental institutions or executed prisoners in the "Body Worlds" shows, though he does accept unclaimed bodies from Chinese medical schools that are plastinated for use by universities.
"Every whole body exhibited in North America comes from fully informed European and American donors, who gave permission, in writing, for their bodies to be displayed," said von Hagens.