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Audience Watches an Autopsy

German doctor defies British authorities, cuts into body in front of 350 people and TV cameras.

November 21, 2002|From Reuters

LONDON — A maverick German doctor defied British authorities Wednesday by slicing open a human body before a packed audience and television cameras in the country's first public autopsy since 1830.

Police weighing up a possible prosecution were among at least 350 fascinated spectators who attended the event led by Gunther von Hagens in London's East End.

Von Hagens could face three months in prison if authorities decide he violated the Anatomy Act by returning to the days when autopsies were a popular public spectacle in Britain.

The professor, who has stirred controversy with his "Body Worlds" exhibition of preserved human corpses, some dismembered, insisted that he had the permission of the deceased's family and a sound legal basis for performing the autopsy before the sellout crowd, whose members paid about $19 to attend.

One of his assistants identified the hairy, potbellied body as that of a 72-year-old German man. "There was nothing exceptional in his life. He was a businessman, an employee, who lost his job at the age of 50. At that time he started drinking," the assistant said.

Moments later, Von Hagens took his scalpel to the corpse.

When it was over, some people in the crowd said they liked what they saw.

"I think it's absolutely fascinating. I've never seen anything like it before," said accountant Louise Cotton, 40.

Von Hagens said he wanted to bring medical knowledge to a wider audience. "There is huge demand among the public to see what an autopsy entails, especially in light of the fact that this procedure can be ordered on them ... without their consent according to British law."

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