A German doctor performed a technically illegal public autopsy in London, charging admission, results to be shown on television:
- In a former brewery in east London on Wednesday night, the television cameras turned, a paying audience squirmed and gaped and Britain’s first public autopsy in 170 years since the days when the practice was banned to discourage body-snatching was under way.
Ghoulish? Maybe. Grotesque? Perhaps. But if this late-night spectacle so redolent of a city once familiar to the young Charles Dickens was designed to stir talk, headlines and TV chatter around the personage of Gunther von Hagens, the German doctor who performed the post-mortem on the body of a 72-year-old compatriot, then doubtless it was a success.
Esthetically, it was strong on visuals destined to shock while the sound included “a general sloshing about of organs,” as one spectator described it. But there was also supposed to be some elucidation for those too squeamish to have inquired earlier about such topics as how to saw a skull or slice a stiff.
Dr. von Hagens accompanied the autopsy with an accented, almost droning commentary that seemed almost a parody.
“The bone is, of course, quite strong, and it takes some time to go through to the skull,” he intoned as he took a small saw to the skull of his subject, an unidentified businessman who died in March after decades of four-pack-a-day smoking and two-bottle-a-day whisky-drinking. The subject was said to have given his consent for the public post-mortem and the body had been preserved in formaldehyde since his death.
….”I do not care whether this autopsy was art, education or freak show,” said the writer and columnist Simon Jenkins, who sat in the audience close to Dr. von Hagens. “It was a public event that did nobody harm and much good.”
“I found last night’s show unsettling, a throwback to the 17th century. But to upset sensitive doctors and their ministerial friends is not a crime in Blair’s Britain or not yet,” he wrote in today’s Evening Standard of London. “Anatomists should get back to their pathology labs. Policemen should get back on the streets. Britain is no place for these mad mullahs of medical censorship.”
And, in case anyone was still interested, the autopsy drew one, undisputed conclusion: after decades of whisky and cigarettes, Dr. von Hagens’ 72-year-old subject had died from heart failure brought on by smoking and drinking. [NY Times]
Um, ew. I’m too squeamish for anything like this – I once fainted dead away in a movie theater during a realistic open-heart surgery scene. I can’t say I get what the guy’s point is though, other than making some dough. I don’t imagine this kind of reality will be on a major US network anytime soon: not enough sex, violence, or shame.