Anatomy of a row: the bodies at an exhibition that may deter donors

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Britain's leading anatomists have protested that a planned exhibition featuring dissected and ingeniously preserved human corpses is "mere spectacle" and may deter families from donating bodies to medical science.

Members of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Association of Clinical Anatomists said they believed the exhibition, due to open at the Atlantis Gallery in east London next Saturday, should go ahead only if it is clear that all the donors have given consent for their remains to be displayed.

In a letter to The Independent, the clinicians express their fear that the exhibition organised by a German anatomist, Professor Gunther von Hagens, will sensationalise and trivialise human dissections, "to the detriment of medical education". They have also protested to Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy.

The Body Worlds exhibition, which has already been seen by eight million people around the world, features both individual preserved organs and exhibits of corpses posed to look as if they are engaged in activities such as playing chess.

Professor von Hagens believes the exhibition is educational and said the proceeds from the £10 tickets will go towards funding his Institute for Plastination.

Plastination is a procedure he invented and patented. It has helped to develop new ways of preserving the body for medical use.

Speaking from China yesterday, he said the donors of the complete bodies in the display had all given permission to be used in this way, although he admitted that some other parts of the exhibition came from "older museum collections". The history of items in museum collections is not always clear.

Professor von Hagens is still in discussions with the Department of Health over the exhibition. Although he originally believed he did not need a licence to bring his specimens to Britain, he has been told he does need to apply for one. A Government spokeswoman said there was no timetable laid down for a decision from Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy.

Professor von Hagens said: "I'm generally confident that the exhibition will not be banned from Great Britain."