Terminally ill ‘Dr Death’ Gunther von Hagens asks wife to cut him up and put his body on display

He hopes his preserved corpse will welcome visitors to the Body Worlds Museum Experience in London – and wants to be wearing his famed fedora

Colin Drury
Sunday 30 September 2018 18:54
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Gunther von Hagens’ wife, Dr Angelina Whalley, said she was ‘stunned’ by the 73-year-old’s request
Gunther von Hagens’ wife, Dr Angelina Whalley, said she was ‘stunned’ by the 73-year-old’s request

The German scientist nicknamed Dr Death because of his pioneering work on preserving corpses has asked his wife to plastinate his own body after he himself passes away.

Terminally ill Gunther von Hagens told partner Angelina Whalley he then wants his body to be displayed at the entrance to London’s new Body Worlds Museum Experience – where preserved organs, skulls and corpses are all on show in various poses.

The 73-year-old, who is suffering with Parkinson’s disease, is the driving force behind the museum, which opens on Saturday. His decision to be among his exhibits when his own time comes is “a finalising [of] his life’s work”, said Dr Whalley.

Plastination involves replacing certain body fats and tissues with silicone so the corpse does not deteriorate or smell. It takes a year to complete.

Dr Whalley said her husband’s request had left her “stunned”.

“Of course, in the very beginning I thought, Gunther, you are kidding me. This is something I would never be able to do,” she told The Observer.

But she says she slowly came round to the idea.

“He said to me: ‘Angelina, you are entitled to freeze me down to -25C for one year, but after that time you really need to put your hands on me because otherwise I will get freeze burn’,” she said. “So I have one year for mourning and then I will have to do it.”

She told the newspaper her husband – who wears a trademark fedora – would like his final pose to be a welcoming one, adding he would like to be wearing his much-loved hat.

“But we can never guarantee that an idea will be realised later on,” Dr Whalley said. “What we can finally do with a body once it comes to our institute depends on its age, how much decay there has been, or any illness that has taken place.”

Dr von Hagens – who has toured his Body Worlds exhibits all across the globe – is perhaps best known in the UK for performing the country’s first public human autopsy for 170 years in 2002.

Some 300 people paid £12 each to watch him cut up the body of German donor Peter Meiss,

Critics branded the event – which was later screened on Channel 4 – a tasteless stunt. But the maverick doctor said: “It’s not ghoulish to want to see what is inside the human body.”

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