9. Plastination


Keeping samples from cadaver for a long time has been the biggest problem in anatomy. Keeping the samples moist, preventing them from decaying, and preserving their shape were difficult. Samples were dumped in transparent preservatives, put into frames, and were fixed with transparent liquefied plastic.




In 1977, a German anatomist came up with an idea. He removed moisture from the dissected cadaver, and stuffed plastic instead. The process to fill samples with plastic instead of water is called plastination. Like plastic, plastinated samples do not decay and do not smell. Samples put in preservative bottles or covered in plastic cant be touched, but plastinated samples are palpable. The plastinated samples are not wet, so gloves are not needed. Plastination changed the anatomy sample room from a wet and smelly place to a clean and fresh place.

The totally new samples were displayed to the public, and the ordinary people who did not have the chance to look at a cadaver were shocked. The dissected cadavers were displayed in specific postures (such as exercising, eating) and this shocked the crowd in various countries. At first, German samples took over the world, and later the Chinese samples took over the market. Especially the samples, made in Dalian, China, became famous for their quality.

If plastic had existed and plastination were available in the ancient times, plastinated samples would have been made instead of mummies. Then, we would have been able to discover exactly how the ancient people looked like. Wouldnt you want to see plastinated samples made by ancient Egyptians?




Plastinated samples from dissected cadaver have ethical problems. Most anatomists agree with displaying the samples, while others disagree. If the donor of the body agreed to the display before his death, I approve. If he did not, I disapprove. If the display is for an educational purpose, I approve. If the display is only for marketing purpose, I disapprove. Bad samples for only marketing purpose is to make samples with erotic posture or to sell samples to individuals. But in reality, the purpose of display is in the grey area, and thus the discussion never ends.

Medical schools in many countries have many anatomy museums where medical students study and outsiders visit. Today, anatomy museums display plastinated samples of the entire body or specific parts of the body, and sometimes donate them to science museums and natural history museums. There is an ongoing work to make better plastinated samples, and related symposium and academic journal have been made.

Lastly, plastinated samples are not for free and costs money to make them. Like plastic bags have environmental problems, plastinated samples have ethical problems. Plastinated samples are part of cadaver.