Questions & Answers
HERE YOU WILL FIND ANSWERS TO THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS.
As a body donor for plastination, you can also be registered as an organ donor simultaneously. In very many cases, however, organ donation is not a viable option, because the prerequisites are specific and difficult to meet. For example, if a serious illness has led to death that will usually prevent organ donation, or if the organ cannot be removed quickly enough, this will also affect the ability to donate an organ.
If organ donation is possible in the event of death, this life saving procedure takes priority. The IfP may still accept the body, provided that the body is transferred to the IfP immediately after organ removal.
Body Donation for Plastination is not a fixed contract, but a declaration of will, which can be revoked by either party at any time without cause. If you want to reverse your decision, please let us know in writing in an informal letter by post or email. We will then remove your details from our database and send you a confirmation of your withdrawal.
Decomposition begins shortly after death, even when it is not visible to the naked eye for many days. For a good result in plastination, the body should be transferred to our Institute as quickly as possible. If the transfer will be delayed for days, we recommend temporarily storing the body cold in a mortuary located near the place of death. A local funeral home may have to be commissioned for this, at a cost to the donor or their family.
In warm seasons, the transfer should take place no later than 2-3 days after death. In the colder seasons or in the case of storage in a refrigerated mortuary, it should be within 6-8 days at the latest. After that the body will be far too decomposed and would be unsuitable for plastination, in this case we would have to reject the acceptance of the deceased.
Further information and recommendations for action are summarized in the Guide for Survivors.
Immediately upon arrival at our laboratory, the body is preserved ("embalmed") by injecting chemicals into the blood vessels and remains in this state for several months before being subjected to preparation and plastination. If possible, these steps are planned and prepared with the help of the medical file. A decision is made as to how the organs, body parts or the whole body are to be plastinated, taking into account the underlying disease and the cause of death, as well as the provisions expressed in the disposal form.
The individual plastination steps are very labor and time intensive; on average, it takes two to three years for a body donation to become a plastinate.
We always try to consider individually expressed wishes, such as a certain pose. However, we must ask for your understanding that we cannot guarantee the implementation of such requests. This is because the possible plastination results are dependent on several different factors that are not predictable at the time of disposition. Above all, this includes age and physical condition, any existing illnesses, the cause of death and the time that elapsed between death and arrival in our laboratories, or the status of decomposition.
To be able to make a diagnosis with certainty, detailed, systematic examinations of the entire body and histological examinations, as is usual in a pathological autopsy, are required. However, the investigations carried out by the IfP mainly cover the normal structure of the human body. Illnesses and causes of death are only examined with regard to their importance for medical education. The IfP can therefore not diagnose illnesses or the cause of death.
The IfP does not provide any information about what exactly happened to a body donation. There are legal reasons for this and we are convinced that it is better for the bereaved to remember the person concerned as they knew them during their lifetime.
As soon as a body has been anatomically prepared, i.e. the skin and the forming subcutaneous fatty tissue have been removed, it appears so alienated that it is impossible even for close relatives to recognize the person.
In the BODY WORLDS exhibitions, the identity, age and cause of death of the respective person remain unmentioned, since the exhibition deals with the miracle of the human body, and not with private, personal destinies.
Not all donors will be able to be part of BODY WORLDS and it’s possible to specify that you do not want to be on public display. Preparations that are not shown in the BODY WORLDS exhibitions are used for science and for the training of doctors and others working in health professions.
Results of plastination depend on many factors that are not foreseeable at the time of death. Above all, these include age and physical condition at the time of death, any existing illnesses, the cause of death and the time that elapsed between death and arrival in our laboratories (in other words, how far the decomposition has progressed).
If you want to exclude using your body or parts of it in a public exhibition, you can specify this in your donation form. A separate field is provided for this disposition. In this case, your body will only be used for scientific purposes and for medical training in appropriate institutions.
A corpse is not just any object, but as the remains of a former human being it holds a special claim to be respected. Several features of BODY WORLDS illustrate how this claim is by no means violated:
- The bodies on display come exclusively from people who have voluntarily made their bodies available for this purpose. The exhibition honors and respects the will of the deceased, even though their decision to donate their bodies and consent to public display may not be in line with other people's values and opinions.
- The exhibits always correspond to their human nature, for example, the bodies or their individual parts would never be shown in a dehumanized form (e.g. a leg would never become a golf club and a bladder would never become a flower vase).
- The personal rights of the body donors are preserved because the exhibition does not provide any information about their identity, age or cause of death.
- Visitor behavior plays the most important role. Because respect does not exist by itself but is always expressed through respectful interaction. An exhibition shouldn't be like a fair, where people are amused, and the exhibits are mocked or exposed to ridicule. Exactly the opposite is the case with BODY WORLDS: the exhibition is designed to be noticeably calm, serious, and disciplined.
It would be difficult to understand why it should be a greater or better show of respect to abandon a dead body to the earth or the incinerator than to turn it into a plastinate and present it to an interested, lay public in an anatomy exhibition for the benefit of education.
All deaths received by the IfP are subject to an annual, notarial factual assessment and are reported to the city of Heidelberg. The process involves checking all death certificates for compliance with the corresponding writs of the relevant year and notarizing them. All donor donations received by the IfP are notarized in this way.
In addition, the IfP body donation program has been independently reviewed several times in the past as part of the BODY WORLDS exhibitions. Numerous museums, particularly in the USA, had convened ethics committees in advance of the exhibition with the task of examining the ethical acceptability of the exhibition in general and its suitability for their particular museum. In this context, the origin of the plastinates has always been of crucial importance, which is why representatives, mostly ethicists or lawyers, were sent to inspect the body donation documents on the premises of our Heidelberg based Institute. Without exception, all examiners concluded that that the IfP body donation program complies with all necessary ethical standards and in some cases even exceeds the standards commonly used in anatomy. In addition, all ethics committees rated the exhibition as ethically justifiable and found it suitable as a museum exhibition.
he California Science Center in Los Angeles has kindly given permission to publish the ethical report they commissioned. It is available online at: https://bodyworlds.com/ethic/.
People have decided to donate their bodies for very different reasons. What they all have in common is that they wanted to contribute to medical education and public education. Without these selfless donations, neither our scientific work nor BODY WORLDS would be possible.
Our body donation program includes more than 19,000 registered donors; of these we have received around 2,500 deceased to date (as of March 2022). Here you find some body donor comments from the donation forms.
Death is not a sudden event, but a process. It occurs when the heart stops beating. As a result, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the body regions is interrupted, so that the body cells gradually die off and organ functions come to a standstill. First the brain is affected. The reduced brain activity initially limits consciousness and perception, breathing becomes shallow, hearing and vision decrease, and finally control of the elementary life functions is lost forever. The end of the electrical activity of the brain, brain death, is legally considered the time of death.
Decomposition begins shortly after death. It is activated by enzymes released in the body, but above all by endogenous microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. This natural process affects humans as well as animals and leads to the complete decomposition of the body in the earthen grave.
The plastination process deprives the microorganisms of their basis of life by removing water and fats from the tissue and replacing them with plastics. Plastinates are therefore durable, similar to the mummies of the pharaohs. They are dry and odorless and do not require any special precautions for their storage.
In earlier times, the phenomenon of "apparent death" was not uncommon due to a lack of medical knowledge. Apparent death was once used to describe the condition of an unconscious person whose vital functions such as breathing and heartbeat were so reduced that they could not be determined with simple means, so the person appeared dead. At that time there was a lack of suitable examination methods for diagnosis, because at that time doctors only had very basic tools at their disposal. If the pulse could no longer be felt and the heartbeat could no longer be heard, a mirror was held under the nose of the apparently deceased to see whether it fogged. Or one irritated the mucous membranes of the nose with smelling salts and pricked the soles of the feet, to elicit even the smallest signs of life from the person. Of course, such methods are very unreliable and inappropriate.
Today there are completely different tools available, such as the measurement of electrical heart and brain currents (ECG and EEG), with which death can be clearly determined.
About 30 minutes after the onset of death, the first visible, so-called “certain signs of death” appear on a corpse. These include, bruises (livor mortis). They arise because the blood that is no longer circulating escapes from the blood vessels and sinks into lower-lying regions of the body due to the force of gravity. In addition, the lack of oxygen causes the muscles to freeze; this "rigor mortis" is also considered a sure sign of death. Visible signs of decomposition appear later. If there are "certain signs of death", death can be determined without any doubt even without technical aids. The danger of being “buried alive” is practically impossible in our culture today.