Taxidermy is the practice of preparing and stuffing an animal in order to give it a lifelike appearance. The animal will often be portrayed in a lifelike stance, and generally are displayed as trophies. Interestingly, for years people have had the strange desire to repeat this process on human beings, and so the question arises as to whether or not this is legal to do.
It is not legal to taxidermy a human being anywhere in the world. Since there are many laws and regulations surrounding the handling of human remains and organs, it would be illegal for a taxidermist to even attempt the skinning and stuffing of a human being.
There is a reason why human taxidermy is illegal, and the practicalities and details, as well as several horrifying instances in which human taxidermy was attempted, will be covered below.
The Biology Behind Human Taxidermy
Not only would it be disturbing to taxidermy your loved one, but it also would not be entirely possible. At least, not possible while still looking like a real human being.
Taxidermy is not the preservation of a body, but simply the arrangement of skin, often done in order to keep a lifelike appearance. The organs are not preserved, but the skin is removed from the body of the animal and then sewn or mounted onto a wooden block resembling the animal. The skin may also be stuffed with cotton and then sewn up, but neither of these ways will truly resemble the animal as it was while it was alive and breathing.
The human skin is the biggest organ in the body, and in order for it to function properly, it requires blood flow that carries oxygen and essential nutrients. If a person is not alive, their skin will not be receiving these things and it will dry out and become very tough, tougher than an animal skin would get under the same circumstances. The skin would also become discolored and eventually start cracking and altogether would look both unrealistic and horrific. (Source)
The History of Human Taxidermy
There are two famous instances of human taxidermy, neither of which has been successful in preserving the human in a lifelike state. The first was a man who was simply called “El Negro”, a South African man who was exhumed from his grave in the 1830s and stuffed by two french taxidermists. He was shipped back to Paris and displayed in a shop until it was purchased by a Spaniard who displayed it at the Barcelona World Exhibition in 1888.
“El Negro” became the symbol of all Africans to many Europeans, who would travel from far and wide to come and see the real black man. It was a novelty to them, something that both fascinated and frightened them. The body was eventually placed on exhibit in a museum and stayed there until 1997 when people started questioning whether or not it was appropriate to display something like that.
The push to remove the body, which was now crumbling and cracking, was met with opposition, as it was a novelty that the people wanted to keep in Spain. However, the body was eventually taken to Botswana and given a proper burial in 2016. (Source)
Jeremy Bentham was another instance of human taxidermy, which was also a failure. Bentham was a British philosopher and he had requested that when he died, he was to be stuffed and put on display at the University College of London.
However, his instructions were not followed exactly and his skeleton was simply dressed in his clothes with his whole mummified head sitting on top. However, the head was continually stolen by college students and used for pranks, so eventually it was taken to an environmentally controlled room and a wax head was constructed and placed on the skeleton. (Source)
Other Methods of Human Preservation
It may surprise you to learn that mummification is not a thing of the past but is a process that is still done throughout the world. It is a more popular choice for pet owners to have their pets mummified, but with new technology and methods, more and more people are opting to be mummified when they pass on.
In the modern-day mummification process, the body is thoroughly cleaned and then the organs are removed and embalmed before being placed back into the body. The corpse is then placed in a water bath for an extended period of time in order to hydrate it fully, after which it is then covered in a hydrating lotion.
After the body is treated, it is wrapped in layers of gauze and then covered with a polyethylene membrane before being coated with a layer of fiberglass and resin. All of these help with the preservation of the body, and the current hope behind modern mummification is that DNA will be able to be retrieved from the body years after the person has passed. (Source)
Embalming is a temporary solution that will help preserve the deceased human body for up to two years. In rare instances when a body is embalmed very well, it can last up to 12 years. Embalming is a process in which special fluids are injected into the human body that helps with the preservation of the body and organs, so the organs will all remain in the body.
During the embalming process, there are four areas of the body that are drained of the current bodily fluids before being injected with preservatives. The mouth, throat, and genitals are stuffed with cotton in order to soak up any excess fluids that may leak from the body after the embalming process is complete.
Embalming is a common choice for those who choose to have an open casket at their funeral because the body will look more life-like and will be preserved enough to be presented. One factor that has a big impact on the length that the body stays preserved is the temperature of the room the body is stored in. If the conditions are warm, the body will decay quickly regardless of the quality of the embalming.