Gunther von Hagens

Gunther von Hagens
Gunther von Hagens

Gunther von Hagens in Cologne, 2000
Born 10 January 1945 (1945-01-10) (age 66)
Skalmierzyce, Kalisch, Poland
Occupation Anatomist
Spouse Angelina Whalley[1]
Children 3- Rurik, Bera, and Tona[2](25 May 2010)

Gunther von Hagens (born Gunther Liebchen, 10 January 1945) is a controversial German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called plastination.


Early life

He was born Gunther Gerhard Liebchen in Skalmierzyce (then called Alt-Skalden) near Kalisz, Reichsgau Wartheland in western Poland. At the age of five days his parents took him on a six-month trek west to escape the imminent Soviet occupation. His father Gerhard Liebchen had served in the German SS as a cook.[3] Gunther grew up in East Germany. The family lived briefly in Berlin and its vicinity, before finally settling in Greiz, a small town where von Hagens remained until age nineteen.

A haemophiliac, as a child he spent six months in hospital after being injured. This stimulated an interest in medical science and in 1965 he commenced studies in medicine at the University of Jena. While at the university, von Hagens began to question Communism and Socialism, and widened his knowledge of politics by gathering information from Western news sources. He participated in student protests against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. In January 1969, disguised as a vacationing student, von Hagens made his way across Bulgaria and Hungary, and on 8 January attempted to cross the Czechoslovakian border into Austria. He failed, but made a second attempt the next day, at another location along the border.[4] He was arrested and punished with two years in jail.[5]

West Germany bought his freedom in 1970[6] and he continued his medical studies in Lübeck, and received a doctorate in 1975 from the University of Heidelberg.


He worked at the University in the Institutes of Anatomy and Pathology as a lecturer for 22 years.[7]

Dr von Hagens is best known for his plastination technique, which he invented in 1977 and patented in the following year.[8][9] Subsequently, he developed the technique further, and founded the Institute of Plastination in Heidelberg in 1993. He has been visiting professor in Dalian, China since 1996, where he runs a plastination center, and also directs a plastination center at the State Medical Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Since 2004 he is also guest professor at New York University College of Dentistry.[10]

For the first 20 years plastination was used to preserve small specimens for medical study. It was not until the early 90s that the equipment was developed to make it possible to plastinate whole body specimens, each specimen taking up to 1,500 man hours to prepare.[11] The first exhibition of whole bodies was displayed in Japan in 1995. Over the next two years, Von Hagens developed the Body Worlds exhibition, showing whole bodies plastinated in lifelike poses and dissected to show various structures and systems of human anatomy, which has since met with public interest and controversy in more than 50 cities around the world.

Religious groups, including representatives of the Catholic Church[12] and some Rabbis[13] have objected to the display of human remains, stating that it is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body.

The exhibition, and von Hagens' subsequent exhibitions Body Worlds 2, 3 and 4, have received more than 26 million visitors.[14]

To produce specimens for the Body Worlds exhibition, von Hagens employs 340 people at five laboratories in four different countries. Each laboratory is categorized by specialty, with the China laboratory focusing on animal specimens. The giraffe[15] which appeared in "Body Worlds 3 & The Story of the Heart" was one of the most difficult specimens to create. The giraffe took three years to complete – 10 times longer than the amount of time it takes to prepare a human body. Ten people were required to move the giraffe because its final weight, like all specimens after plastination, was equal to its original.[16]

The Body Worlds exhibits were featured in a supposed Miami exhibition in the 2006 film Casino Royale, although the actual location for the exterior shots was the Ministry of Transport in Prague. Von Hagens himself makes a cameo appearance, and can be seen leading a tour past where James Bond kills a villain.[citation needed]

Von Hagens has developed new body sectioning methods that yield very thin slices, which can then be plastinated. The slices can be used for anatomy studies. He is also developing similar techniques for larger specimens such as an elephant. He works in a concealed laboratory, with an entrance behind a movable staircase, where he developed his wafer plastination techniques.[17]

Personal life

Von Hagens is married to Angelina Whalley, who is the Creative Director of the Body Worlds exhibitions.[1] He has three children from his first marriage and also retains the surname von Hagens which is that of his first wife. When appearing in public, even when performing anatomical dissections, von Hagens always wears a black fedora (a reference to the hat worn in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt).[citation needed]

Von Hagens has said that his grand goal is the founding of a "Museum of Man" where exhibits of human anatomy can be permanently shown. He is on record as commenting that after death he plans to donate plastinated wafers of his body to several universities, so that in death he can (physically) teach at several locations, something that he cannot do while alive.[17] In January 2011, he announced that he was dying from Parkinson’s disease and that after his death his wife would plastinate his body and put his preserved corpse on display as part of the Body Worlds exhibitions.[18]


In 2002 von Hagens performed the first public autopsy in the UK in 170 years, to a sell-out audience of 500 people in a London theatre.[19] Prior to performing the autopsy, von Hagens had received a letter from Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy, the British government official responsible for regulating the educational use of cadavers. The letter warned von Hagens that performing a public autopsy would be a criminal act under section 11 of the Anatomy Act 1984. The show was attended by officers from the Metropolitan Police, but they did not intervene and the dissection was performed in full. The autopsy was shown in November 2002 on the UK's Channel 4 television channel; it resulted in over 130 complaints, an OFCOM record, but the Independent Television Commission ruled that the program had not been sensationalist and had not broken broadcasting rules.[20] A planned public dissection in Munich was cancelled.[citation needed]

In 2003 TV Production Company Mentorn proposed a documentary called Futurehuman in which von Hagens would perform a series of modifications on a corpse to demonstrate 'improvements' to human anatomy. The controversy was sparked when the company, with von Hagens, appealed publicly for, and recruited, a terminally-ill person to donate his body for the project. The documentary was cancelled after the body donor pulled out.[21]

In February 2004, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung confirmed earlier reports by the German TV station ARD that von Hagens had offered a one-time payment and a life-long pension to Alexander Sizonenko if he would agree to have his body transferred to the Institute of Plastination after his death. Sizonenko, reported to be one of the world's tallest men at 2.48 m (8 ft 2 in), formerly played basketball for the Soviet Union and is now plagued by numerous health problems. He declined the offer.[22]

After several legal challenges to the Body Worlds exhibit in Germany, in the Summer of 2004 von Hagens announced it would be leaving the country. From 2004 onwards the exhibitions toured North America, returning to Europe in 2007 with an exhibition in Manchester, UK. The most current display of this exhibition is in Copenhagen, Denmark, beginning on January 11th 2011 until August 8th 2011, in the science center Experimentarium (BODY WORLDS & The Story of the Heart).[23]

Television appearances

In 2005 Channel 4 screened four programs entitled Anatomy for Beginners, featuring von Hagens and pathology professor John Lee dissecting a number of cadavers and discussing the structure and function of many of the body's parts.[24]

A four part follow-up series entitled Autopsy: Life and Death aired on Channel 4 in 2006, in which von Hagens and Lee discussed common fatal diseases (circulatory issues, cancer, poisoning from organ failure, and ageing) with the aid of dissections.[25]

In November 2007, another series of 3 programmes was shown entitled Autopsy: Emergency Room,[26] showing what happens when the body is injured, and featuring presentations by the British Red Cross.[27]

Legal accusations

In 2002 there were legal proceedings against a senior pathologist and coroner in Siberia regarding a shipment of 56 corpses to Heidelberg. The police maintained that the Novosibirsk coroner, Vladimir Novosylov, had sold the bodies illegally to buyers outside of Russia. Von Hagens was not charged in the case, but was called as a witness against Novosylov.[28] The authorities stopped the shipment of bodies and the agreement between Novosibirsk and Dr Von Hagens was terminated.[29]

In October 2003, a parliamentary committee in Kyrgyzstan investigated accusations that von Hagens had illegally received and plastinated several hundred corpses from prisons, psychiatric institutions and hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, some without prior notification of the families. Von Hagens himself testified at the meeting; he said he had received nine corpses from Kyrgyzstan hospitals, none had been used for the Body Worlds exhibition, and that he was not involved with nor responsible for the notification of families.[30]

In 2003, an animal rights organization filed a complaint alleging that von Hagens did not have proper papers for a gorilla he had plastinated.[31] He had received the cadaver from the Hanover Zoo, where the animal had died.[31] German authorities demanded the removal of the gorilla during the 2004 exhibition in Frankfurt, but von Hagens prevailed in court and the animal was restored.[citation needed]

In 2003, the University of Heidelberg filed a criminal complaint against von Hagens, claiming that he had misrepresented himself as a professor from a German university in a Chinese document, and that he had failed to state the foreign origin of his title in Germany. After a trial, he received a fine in March 2004. On 25 April 2005, a Heidelberg court imposed a fine of 108,000 euros (equivalent to a prison term of 90 days at the daily income assessed by the court) for one count of using an academic title that he was not entitled to, but acquitted him on four other counts. On appeal a higher court in September 2006 reduced the penalty to a warning with a suspended fine of 50,000 euros, which under German law is not deemed a prior criminal conviction.[32] In 2007 the charge of title misuse was finally dismissed by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany in Karlsruhe.[33]

Von Hagens has a guest professorship from Dalian Medical University and an honorary professorship from Kyrgyz State Medical Academy. He is also a Guest Professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.[10]

In January 2004, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that von Hagens had acquired some corpses from executed prisoners in China; he countered that he did not know the origin of the bodies and went on to cremate several of the disputed cadavers.[citation needed]

German prosecutors declined to press charges, and Von Hagens was granted an interim injunction against Der Spiegel in March 2005, preventing the magazine from claiming that Body Worlds contain the bodies of executed prisoners.[30]


  • U.S. Patent 4,205,059 Animal and vegetal tissues permanently preserved by synthetic resin impregnation, filed November 1977, issued May 1980
  • U.S. Patent 4,278,701 Animal and vegetal tissues permanently preserved by synthetic resin impregnation, filed November 1979, issued July 1981
  • U.S. Patent 4,320,157 Method for preserving large sections of biological tissue with polymers, filed August 1980, issued March 1982

Further reading


  1. ^ a b "Dr. Angelina Whalley" (Press release). Body Worlds. 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "On Der Spiegel Article Allegations of 28 February 2005" (Press release). Institute for Plastination. 25 July 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  4. ^ "A Life in Science". Institute for Plastination. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  5. ^ Burdick, Alan (March 2004). "Gross Anatomy". Discover. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  6. ^ "The plastination professor". BBC News. 20 November 2002. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  7. ^ "Dr. Gunther von Hagens' frühere Tätigkeit als Wissenschaftler an der Universität Heidelberg" (in German) (Press release). University of Heidelberg. 24 January 2004. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  8. ^ US patent 4205059, "Animal and vegetal tissues permanently preserved by synthetic resin", issued 27 May 1980 
  9. ^ US patent 4320157, "Method for preserving large sections of biological tissue with polymers", issued 16 March 1982 
  10. ^ a b "Life, Death, and One Man’s Quest to Demystify the Inner Realms of the Human Body". Nexus (New York University College of Dentistry) 6 (2). Fall 2004. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  11. ^ Chambless, Ross (19 September 2008). "TheLeonardo Podcast no. 1" (MP3). Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  12. ^ "Concerns about Body Worlds exhibit" (Press release). Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. 14 September 2006. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  13. ^ Susser, Deborah Sussman (9 February 2007). "'Body Worlds' comes to Phoenix". Jewish News of Greater Phoenix 59 (21). Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  14. ^ "Doctor defends Body Worlds exhibition". The Independent. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  15. ^ "The Giraffe". Institute for Plastination. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  16. ^ Gayot, Sophie (5 June 2008). "Dr. Gunther von Hagens". Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  17. ^ a b "Taking a slice out of life" (Microsoft Silverlight). Daily Planet. 25 May 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  18. ^ Exhibitor of Bodies Intends to Contribute His Own. New York Times. Published 5 January 2011. Accessed 5 January 2011.
  19. ^ "Controversial autopsy goes ahead". BBC News. 20 November 2002. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  20. ^ Deans, Jason (27 January 2003). "ITC defends C4's live autopsy". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  21. ^ Boztas, Senay (2003-08-03). "Doctor plans Fame Academy for dying". The Times (London). Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  22. ^ "Shock anatomist on trail of giant". Mail & Guardian. 2 February 2004. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ "Anatomy for Beginners". Channel 4. 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  25. ^ "Autopsy, Life and Death". Channel 4. 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  26. ^ "Autopsy Emergency Room". Channel 4. 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  27. ^ "Red Cross on Autopsy: Emergency Room" (Press release). British Red Cross. 31 October 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  28. ^ Walsh, Nick Paton (17 October 2002). "Pathologist charged in plastination case". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  29. ^ Elkins, Ruth (7 September 2003). "Professor Body and the curious case of Siberia's lost corpses". The Independent. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  30. ^ a b "Statement on Wrongful Allegations and False Reports by Media on the Origin of Bodies in BODY WORLDS Exhibitions" (Press release). Institut fur Plastination. 4 March 2006. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  31. ^ a b Reuters (10 October 2003). "Gorilla to appear in human corpse exhibition". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  32. ^ "Titel-Streit Gunther von Hagens: Landgericht revidiert Urteil der ersten Instanz" (in German) (Press release). Institut für Plastination. 28 September 2006. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 
  33. ^ "Noerr - Von Hagens prosecution dismissed / Defence Counsel: 'Much ado about nothing'" (Press release). Nörr Stiefenhofer Lutz. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2009. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gunther von Hagens — (2000) Gunther von Hagens, geb. Gunther Gerhard Liebchen (* 10. Januar 1945 in Alt Skalden bei Kalisch, Polen), ist ein deutscher Anatom, Wissenschaftler und Unternehmer. Er ist der Erfinder der Plastination, einem dauerhaften… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gunther von Hagens — le 12 février 2000 à Cologne Nom de naissance Gunther Li …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gunther Von Hagens — Gunther von Hagens (né Gunther Liebchen, le 10 janvier 1945, Skalmierzyce) est un anatomiste allemand, inventeur de la plastination, une technique visant à conserver des corps ou des parties d êtres décédés. Il est à l origine de Bod …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gunther von hagens — Gunther von Hagens (né Gunther Liebchen, le 10 janvier 1945, Skalmierzyce) est un anatomiste allemand, inventeur de la plastination, une technique visant à conserver des corps ou des parties d êtres décédés. Il est à l origine de Bod …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gunther von Hagens — en 2009. Gunther Von Hagens (nacido Gunther Gerhard Liebchen) es un artista y científico alemán nacido el 10 de enero de 1945 en Alt Skalden, cerca de Kalisz (Polonia), entonces parte de Alemania. A los 17 años fue miembro del …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gunther von Hagens — Gunther von Hagens: Artista y científico alemán nacido en 1948. A los 17 años fue miembro del Partido Comunista de la otrora República Democrática Alemana hasta su encarcelación por participar en las protestas de 1968. Tres años antes, estudió… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Von Hagens — Gunther von Hagens Gunther von Hagens, geb. Gunther Gerhard Liebchen (* 10. Januar 1945 in Alt Skalden bei Kalisch), ist ein deutscher Anatom, Hochschullehrer und Unternehmer. Er gilt als Erfinder der Plastination. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gunther Liebchen — Gunther von Hagens Gunther von Hagens, geb. Gunther Gerhard Liebchen (* 10. Januar 1945 in Alt Skalden bei Kalisch), ist ein deutscher Anatom, Hochschullehrer und Unternehmer. Er gilt als Erfinder der Plastination. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hagens — oder von Hagens ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Alfred Hagens (1856 1934) Senatspräsident beim Reichsgericht und Vorsitzender des Staatsgerichtshofs zum Schutz der Republik Gunther von Hagens (* 1945), deutscher Anatom, Hochschullehrer… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gunther — ist ein männlicher Vorname und Familienname. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Herkunft und Bedeutung 2 Bekannte Namensträger 2.1 Vorname 2.2 Familienname …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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