Almanac – November 20

2002 – Professor Gunther von Hagens carried out the UK’s first public autopsy in 170 years, to a sell-out audience of 500 people in a London theatre.

Prior to performing the autopsy, von Hagens had received a letter from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Anatomy, the British government official responsible for regulating the educational use of cadavers.

The letter warned von Hagens that performing a public autopsy would be a criminal act under section 11 of the Anatomy Act 1984. The show was attended by officers from the Metropolitan Police, but they did not intervene and the dissection was performed in full.

The autopsy was shown in November 2002 on the UK’s Channel 4 television channel; it resulted in over 130 complaints, an OFCOM record, but the Independent Television Commission ruled that the program had not been sensationalist and had not broken broadcasting rules.

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