If someone were, for example, racist, they would be unhappy about giving/receiving an organ, which links to the question, do you have to say where the organ came from? The following questions are also asked: Who decides the order of priority of people? Should a parent be permitted to sacrifice themselves in order to save their child? Is it fair that it is ultimately, it is up to the family whether the organ is donated or not (as long as the patient has a donor card), even if the donor was adamant either way?
Where does it stop? Victor genetically modified his creation – linked to genetically modified crops and animals. Genetic modification is intended to improve food quality and quantity and it has the advantage of food being sold much more cheaply that anything organic. It can also prevent disease in plants and animals. There are downsides, however, as with most things. The most common is the fact that it is not something natural, but so are many other things we do in our culture. Insecticides can kill birds of prey – they eat the insects that have been exposed to them and the chemicals have had an effect. It has been documented that as a result of GM, the ecosystem has been disturbed, for example, the ‘killer salmon’.
Another controversial issue being raised at the moment is the work of Professor von Hagens and his BodyWorlds exhibition. BodyWorlds – The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies, provides unique insights into the healthy and diseased human body. All the bodies on display are authentic. They belonged to people who declared, during their lives, that their bodies should be made available after their deaths for qualification and instruction of medical professionals and non-professionals alike.
The specimens are permanently preserved by plastination – an impregnation technique where tissues are completely saturated with special plastics in a vacuum. Not only does plastination facilitate the permanent preservation of the specimen, it also allows entirely new forms of anatomical display since the plastics lend a high degree of rigidity to the tissues. Anatomically prepared whole bodies, for instance, can now be displayed in upright, life-like poses. Even isolated anatomical structures can be exhibited in previously unseen ways.
The aim of the exhibition is said to inform visitors and to open up the opportunity, particularly to medics, to better understand their body and its functions. Every human being is unique. It would be impossible to convey this anatomical individuality with models, for a model is nothing more than an interpretation. All models look alike and are essentially, simplified versions of the real thing. The exhibition is dedicated to the individual face within, but will these goals be attained? What is the overall opinion of the exhibition? 50% of people who visited thought it ‘sehr gut’ (very good), 41% viewed it as being ‘gut’ (good), 8% (average) and 2% ‘schlecht’ (bad).
I visited the exhibition in December 2002 and found it fascinating – it was an incredible experience, but I cannot help but wonder what the reasons were for the display. When viewing the exhibits I become aware of the naturalness of our bodies and recognised the individuality we all have inside. Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of plastination, began his medical studies at the University of Jena in 1965. He was arrested after he had distributed leaflets protesting against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Finally, in 1970, he was able to continue his studies at the University of Lï¿½beck, which he completed there in 1973.
In 1974, he received his license to practice medicine before moving to the University of Heidelberg, where he completed his doctorate in the Department of Anaesthetics and Emergency Medicine in 1975. It was in Heidelberg in 1977 where he invented the basic technologies for forced infusion of anatomical specimens with reactive plastics especially developed for this purpose and he founded the Institute for Plastination in 1993. Since 1996 he has been visiting professor at the School of Medicine in Dalian in China and Director of the Plastination Centre at the State Medical Academy in Bishkek/Kirgizstan where he was awarded the title of an honorary professor.
Bastei Lï¿½bbe published a biography about Gunther von Hagens with the title “Immortal, at last” (Original title: “Endlich unsterblich”) in German, authers, Nina Kleinschmidt and Henri Wagner. Some people would say that Professor von Hagens is a modern-day Frankenstein, especially after the public autopsy he demonstrated. I did not see it, but would very much have liked to. I have heard stories concerning it, such as the fact that people felt so sickened at the sight that they fled the room.
It can therefore be seen that far from being an outdated notion, Frankenstein and all that he represents has tremendous relevance to us in the 21st century. Man has always sought to change or better his world and technology has enabled this kind of activity to happen with ever increasing speed. Although the morality of many of these changes is hotly debated, these changes continue. In the same way that Victor continued relentlessly with his project, so do we. Perhaps the final word should be that of caution. In the same way that the monster destroyed Victor Frankenstein, we may end up allowing technology to destroy us.