By the end of May, two months into lockdown, new forms of entertainment were needed. Into this arena appeared a company who had made their mark on Dragon’s Den two years previously. They were offering a live post mortem!
I had heard of these events before. They usually tour the country offering dinner and dissection for the same price as a Michelin starred meal. The events usually sell out. In the name of research I watched the recordings of post mortem live.
They use a semi synthetic cadaver. The question of what exactly this was appeared on twitter and was not answered. It appears to be a synthetic human shaped shell into which they place pig intestines for the performance. It was covered in plastic for almost all of the performance causing some people to complain about the glare. I expect it was expensive and they wanted to protect it. If you read a long way down on their web site you do find the mention of pig but there was not one mention of it during the 7 hours of broadcast. In fact they seemed to go out of their way to imply that the figure was human. Several people made comments about the human specimen on twitter which were never corrected and several people even thanked the donor.
The presenters, we were told, were anatomists of national acclaim. I’m not sure what that means. One of them was referred to as Dr xxx PhD. This is confusing in the UK. Is that a medic with a doctorate? He introduced himself as a final year medical student (equally confusing in a year when they accelerated the graduation of final year medics to deal with the pandemic) so the Dr and the PhD are actually the same qualification. The company refuses to release the qualifications of its staff, saying it breaches GDPR.
There was nothing wrong with the anatomy. A few mistakes, but who doesn’t make mistakes in a live broadcast. The ease with which the organs were removed from their host was not realistic and on the one occasion when they did cut into the semi synthetic cadaver not only was it not realistic, it was also impossible to see what they were trying to demonstrate. The skeleton beside them would have been a much better illustration of the spinous processes of the vertebrae.
Comments on twitter asked whether they were actually going to use the human specimen at all and suggested a better title for the programme might have been ‘anatomy lessons with animal parts’.
I am not against dissection as a learning tool. I co founded Anatomy Nights. We have a network of qualified anatomists through out the world who perform heart and brain dissections to educate people. In large letters on our web site is the fact that these are of animal origin. The same statement appears on every presentation and every advertising poster. One of our presenters had a plastinated heart and asked if they could take it along to their event to show people. We asked if they wouldn’t. We don’t want any confusion about the origin of the samples.
Why isn’t this a problem for the Post mortem live people? Their show is advertised with a hearse. They offer a promotional item which is a lunch bag emblazoned with ‘Human organ for transplantation.’ A third of each broadcast was taken up with adverts for their other shows, a live operating theatre experience that appears to start with the car crash. They encouraged people to dissect along side them at home. At one point they referred to this as ‘using the organs you have got from the butcher or the ones you ordered from us.’ these ordered organs were described on their web site as ‘REAL’ (their emphasis).
They aren’t breaking any laws. It’s not illegal to dupe the public. It’s clear from twitter that some of the people thought they were going to see a real human body. Is it ethical to pretend to dissect a human? Is it ethical to portray it as such to make more money? Is it ethical to exploit the more basic curiosity in some people who want to see the inside of a real human? The ethical philosopher Kass has an interesting theory called the ‘Yuck’ theory. It’s self explanatory really but essentially if something make you go ‘Yuck’ then it may be ethical dubious.
I wonder what Kass would think of post mortem live?