Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'Body Worlds' Comes To Town

This past weekend two of my friends and I visited the Body Worlds exhibition. This a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts that are prepared using a technique called plastination to reveal inner anatomical structures. The exhibition's developer and promoter is a German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, who invented the plastination technique in the late 1970s at the University of Heidelberg.

When I learned that the exhibit was coming to town I asked several friends if they would like to go with me to view the displays. A curious thing happened - I did not get any responses from them and I assumed that maybe they were too busy to go.

Then one day I was sitting with a group of people who were discussing the exhibit. The consensus of the group was that it was blasphemous and barbaric and they couldn’t imagine why anyone would go. It was then that I had the ‘aha’ moment and realized that the people that I had invited to go were possibly horrified with the idea and didn’t want to tell me.

Body Worlds was first presented in Tokyo in 1995 and have since been hosted by more than 50 museums and venues in North America, Europe, and Asia. Body Worlds exhibitions have received more than 28million visitors, making them the world's most popular touring attraction.

I focused on that figure of 28 million when I read it because it confirmed for me that maybe I was not alone or being ‘ghoulish’ by wanting to see the exhibition.

Each Body Worlds exhibition contains approximately 25 full-body plastinates with expanded or selective organs shown in positions that enhance the role of certain systems. More than 200 specimens of real human organs and organ systems are displayed in glass cases, some showing various medical conditions.

This particular exhibit concentrated on the heart. On the day we went it was well attended and the people were walking around in complete silence. It certainly gives one a lot to think about. The most revealing, for me, was viewing a liver with cirrhosis and the lungs of a smoker and non-smoker which are placed side by side. I learned that a person who smokes twenty cigarettes a day produces a coffee cup size of tar for the lungs to ingest – thus causing the black lung that was on display.

The Body Worlds exhibitions rely on the generosity of body donors; individuals who bequeathed that, upon their death, their bodies could be used for educational purposes in the exhibitions. Currently, the Institute for Plastination has a donor roster of 8000 individuals, 490 are already deceased.

They state “We believe that when people understand more about how the body works and how it can break down, they are more likely to choose healthy and sustainable lifestyles. We also hope it will inspire visitors to learn more about the life sciences.”

The exhibitions also allow visitors to see and better understand the long-term impact of diseases, the effects of tobacco consumption and the mechanics of artificial supports such as knees and hips.

The Body Worlds exhibitions aim to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and show the effects of poor health, good health and lifestyle choices. They are also meant to create interest in and increase knowledge of anatomy and physiology among the public.

One conclusion that I did come to while wandering around the exhibit was that I could never donate my own body to be an exhibit – not sure if that is because I am prudish or that I just don’t want to be hanging around for all to see. But I am glad that others have given us the gift of understanding more about how our body functions and the exhibit leaves everyone with their own personal thoughts on what they have just seen. I am sure that we all left there with the idea of making more sensible choices about the way we treat our bodies.

If this is something that is of interest to you -

I highly recommend visiting this exhibit if it comes to your community.

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