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Clin Anat. 2002 Nov;15(6):436-40.

Re-inventing anatomy: the impact of plastination on how we see the human body.

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Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Over the past 20 years the development of plastination has opened up new vistas for gross anatomy. In particular, it has led to a major expansion in the range of human anatomic specimens available for teaching and its potential value in research is increasingly being appreciated. More recently, it has burst into the public arena through what has become known as 'Anatomy Art,' as depicted in the von Hagens exhibition, Körperwelten (Bodyworlds). In this exhibition, the lifeless cadavers of the dissecting room have been transformed into standing, sitting, and jumping lifelike plastinated 'models' that demonstrate spinal cords, tumorous lungs, cirrhotic livers, joint prostheses, and sagittally sectioned whole bodies. Not surprisingly, the exhibition has raised considerable ethical debate about treating human cadavers in this way, an issue of particular relevance to anatomists. This article is an attempt to further this debate by considering the nature of plastinated human specimens, and the context within which they should be examined. The only rationale for displaying (plastinated) human material in the public domain is an educational one, with a basis in a museum ethos. The boundaries of this educational rationale are discussed, as are the opportunities and challenges presented by plastination to the anatomical community.

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