Body Donors Pick Their Poses for Plastination Exhibit

Geraldine Pavlick requests her body be plastinated diving for a volleyball.


Feb. 26, 2008— -- Geraldine Pavlick is excited to have her naked body skinned, filleted and posed diving for a volleyball before millions of viewers at Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibit of real human bodies after she dies.

"When I went to the exhibit and saw the bodies kicking a soccer ball and throwing a baseball I just thought, volleyball, that's me," said Pavlick.

She is one of the roughly 8,000 living people on von Hagens' donor list to have her body preserved through a process called "plastination," in which the tissue and bone from her corpse will be infused with silicone and essentially turned into plastic.

Von Hagens invented the process of plastination in the 1970s and has since processed hundreds of donated bodies and positioned them in a variety of poses playing sports, musical instruments, chess and poker for the exhibits that have visited dozens of cities around the world.

Pavlick, 52, has worked in the medical field for most of her professional life and said if she is put on display, she "will finally get to travel."

Her 27-year-old daughter, Ellen Pavlick, a nurse, said her mother's desire to be displayed in the exhibit is very much in character.

"She always wants to give back to the community and be involved," said Ellen. "Sure it would be very emotional to see her plastinated at first, but overall it's a good thing; it's what she wants."

In addition to requesting the volleyball pose, Pavlick would like a private viewing of her plastinated remains for her friends and family before her body is put on display.

Von Hagens said he tries his best to accommodate the requests of the donors but informs them that he cannot promise exactly what will be done with their plastinated remains in the future.

The donor must sign a form indicating that he or she understands that the family will have to pay for the body to be transported to the nearest embalmer who operates under von Hagens' direction and that no unused portions of the body will be returned to the family.

Some of the donors see plastination as way of avoiding the costs of an expensive funeral, burial or cremation. Many of them view it as more "useful" than a traditional burial.

"Being a donor is constructive, educational and useful. Why wouldn't anybody want to be on display?" asked Lynn Kuratomi, a 46-year-old mother from California.

Kuratomi is a Japanese-American Buddhist. "In my culture, it's about what you make of your life now," she said, but added that her husband and son are not in favor of her decision to be put on display after she passes away.

Michael Wright, 46, is a Methodist, and said being displayed in von Hagens' exhibit does not go against his religion in any way either.

"What greater thing than to show off God's work?" asked Wright. "There's nothing undignified about it."

Not everyone agrees.

"Turning death into entertainment takes away the dignity and sanctity of the human life that was lived," said Rabbi Louis Feldstein of Atlanta, who spoke out about the bodies exhibits on ABC News "20/20's" report on bodies exhibitions earlier this month.

So far close to 700 Americans have signed up as donors. The United States is second only to Germany, which has about 7,000 donors on the list. A few Americans are already being plastinated, but none are yet on display.

Last year an American man donated the leg he had amputated. The leg is almost ready to be displayed, according to Nadine Diwersi who works with von Hagens.

Diwersi said it takes on average one year to complete a whole body plastinate, but that "it can take [von Hagens] months to position a body before he is satisfied it is ready for display."

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