Aside from the fact that I love to be a contrarian, I’m fascinated by the reactions to Professor Gunther von Hagen’s public autopsy in London yesterday. He went ahead with it despite threats from the authorities, which deserves respect. The man obviously has balls (although whether they are plastinated or not, I don’t know...). If I lived in London, I might even have been tempted to buy a ticket for the event.
So what is wrong with public autopsy? If religious and sexual taboos are passé (see this interesting article on the word ’fuck’ for example), it is often said that death is the taboo of our time, and perhaps the furore around the autopsy is evidence of this. Maybe improvements in public hygiene and medicine have extended life enough that death is now a rare event to most of us, unlike our forebears in previous centuries. However, none of us can escape the reaper, no matter how long we can delay his arrival.
What about those sections of society who do deal with death on a regular basis? What about doctors? I understand that dissection of a human body is an integral part of the curriculum in medical schools. That means that the nice doctor who took your blood pressure last week has been elbow-deep in a dead body (beats the veterinary experience of being elbow-deep in a cow’s arse, but I digress...). If it’s acceptable for a medical student to cut up a dead person, why shouldn’t regular members of the public be able to watch the same activity? It may be unpleasant to many people, but that is not necessarily a good reason to prohibit it. I don’t believe that most doctors are irredeemably depraved by the experience! The dead man had donated his body, so it wasn’t a case of body-snatching.
The human body is a remarkable thing, but few of us have the opportunity to see inside it. You generally can’t see inside your own body, so looking inside a dead body is the closest you can get.