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Democratizing Medicine

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Journal Article - Open Access

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National Museum of Health and Medicine, J-9 DHA Silver Spring United States

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Gunther von Hagens, MD, PhD, is known as the progenitor of Body Worlds, the exhibitions of human and animal bodies. Once the purview of anatomy laboratories and medical museums, Professor von Hagenss plastinates attract global attention and the kind of attendance that rivals that of blockbuster films and exhibitions. The National Museum of Health and Medicine NMHM holds a number of plastinated organs prepared by Dr. von Hagens. What started as an effort to create preserved single organs for study attained the complexity of portraying entire bodies posturing to reveal bone and muscle at work. His work elicits both accolade and scorn. Central to his effort is the commitment to the concept that our knowledge of anatomy is essentially democratizingthat the awareness of the composition and structure of our bodies should not remain the exclusive purview of physicians and researchers and health care providers rather all of us should have directopportunities to see and learn our composition, and with that knowledge, be fully informed and participate in health and medical decision making. His is a highly visual endeavor, often appealing to Enlightenment imagery of anatomical form. But what of those with limited sight Teaching anatomy to those with visual impairments has received equally creative attention. Granted, von Hagenss durable preparations aretouchable and can be passed from person to person, conveying heft and dimension, texture, and complexity. But there are other thoughtful devices to teach anatomy, complete with labels bearing names of structures, distinctive raised textures to indicate normal direction of fluid flow, and descriptors of physiologic functionall at micro and macro levels. One of the most remarkable is held here at NMHMthe three volume Tactual Diagrams and Related Texts of the Human Body Fig. 1 and associated audiotapes.


Subject Categories:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Humanities and History

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