Review: Gunther Von Hagens 'Autopsy' series (DVD)

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There Are Few Spectacles Quite As Controversial as Cutting Apart a Dead Body on TV...

Today I wanted to review the DVD series 'Autopsy' by Gunther Von Hagens, which I have been watching quite a bit of over the last few weeks.

Gunther's greatest claim to fame is his development of the plastination of human remains and his choice to use this technique to perform live demonstrations as well as to display plastinated bodies as an often strange blend of art and museum piece.  He performed the first public autopsy in the UK in 170 years which 'her magesty's Inspector of Anatomy' warned would be a criminal act under section 11 of the Anatomy Act of 1984. The show was attended by policemen but they did not intervene and in 2002 the show was shown in full on Channel 4, generating 130 complaints to OFCOM for 'sensationalism'. Despite this he carried on further shows with success and some of these were then turned into a DVD boxset that features 'Anatomy for Beginners' (2005), 'Autopsy: Life and Death' (2006) and 'Autopsy; Emergency Room' (2007).

Gunther mid Autopsy

 Whatever your views about Gunther Von Hagens and his plastination of bodies for display, it is hard to argue that they are not fascinating and educational. The DVD boxset brings us something unique and remarkable to watch: live dissections of real people, which is certainly a rare experience.To take an example, 'Life and Death' deals with the reasons behind common causes of death. He is joined with the lecturer John Lee to explain the details of the biology at work which is to be demonstrated to the audience. On hand are a pair of nude live models to act as a go-to comparison and a series of plastinated examples of organs. But, most emotively, there is also a 'fresh' corpse that is wheeled out to the audience in the studio and at home to demonstrate first hand the diseases and concepts they discuss. 

It's a shock to see a person dead and naked on a slab, even if their faces are respectfully covered, and even more so when they are cut away and experimented on during this educational autopsy. Like the people who crowded around live dissections in the past, or the medical students today, you are brought into an intimate and very challenging scene. The matter of fact treatment of the body as it is  cut apart to demonstrate each concept is eye-opening in itself and, naturally, rather unsettling especially when alongside are living counterparts so close-by. But when you move past this knee-jerk reaction you find yourself in a privileged position and there is no doubt that being able to witness this all in such detail is really rather special. What's more, Gunther's genuine enthusiasm for the anatomy coupled with his respect to the body and those potential donors sat in the audience leave you in no doubt about how importantly this unique and often visceral education really is. You're not likely to learn more about practical human biology from any other programme, that's for sure.

If you'd like something a little different to help you learn about human biology, I would thoroughly recommend the Autopsy series. It's a unique an insightful experience with a very firm basis in fact and practical demonstration which showcases the ingenuity of our talented doctors and the resiliency and fragility of our own beautiful bodies.

A plastinated heart
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