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The Decline of Clinical Dissections and the “Culture of Death”

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In recent decades the number of clinical dissections has declined rapidly in all Western societies. In seeking to explain this development, one must set it within the frame of the general role of dead bodies and death in general in contemporary society. Against the background of two opposing theses - the continuing repression of death and the ‘new culture of death’ - this paper sketches the historical development of clinical dissection, whose practice was central to the development of what Foucault called the modern “medical gaze.” The question of the reasons for its decline was addressed by a representative survey which showed that dissections are well accepted by the public. The article concludes that while the reasons for the decline in clinical dissections lie in the health system and modern medical practices, other forms of dissection, dead bodies, and death in general are experiencing increasing popularity, in a popular culture of death.

Affiliations: 1: Technische Universität Berlin, Germany, Email:, URL:


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