Content warning: This article contains a graphic description of dissection and the post-mortem process, as well as images of the synthetic cadaver. The Post Mortem Live website also includes graphic imagery which may be distressing for some readers.
On October 17, The Post-Mortem Live visited Glasgow as part of their 2021 tour. I was lucky enough to book tickets to their late show on the 18th, held in the Village Hotel, Glasgow.
According to their website, the show is “the UK’s first immersive live post-mortem experience.” This event allows individuals who are interested in the post-mortem industry to not only learn about the process needed to determine the pinnacle cause of death; but to handle and dissect real specimens of porcine origin throughout the event.
After a stress-free entry to the venue, we were led past a gift shop stall that held a variety of post-mortem themed items. Among merchandise sold were items such as the Blood Bag Hot Water Bottle Cover, the Brain Texture Coffee Cup and a variety of designed apparel. An in-depth programme guide was also available. These items and more are available to buy on The Post Mortem Live website.
Upon arrival to our seats, we noted how surprisingly relaxed the atmosphere was. Guests, of which there were 160, were seated lining the walls so that a clear view of the presentation and the semi-synthetic cadaver could be had. Refreshments were allowed into the room during the event, and photographs were able to be taken at any stage of the process. Several tables were spaced throughout the room, allowing all participants to have a chance at dissection.
Sam and his colleague Holly presented the event. Both were engaging, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subjects, even after their “fourth sold-out show”, according to Sam. The experience, including the hour-long break, totalled just over four hours.
The event began with a walk-through of what was to come, followed by a general safety talk about proper conduct and the specimens provided to us. After jewellery was removed and sleeves were rolled up, an introductory video was played to set the scene of the death the semi-synthetic cadaver had endured. This worked well to create mystery around the cause of his death.
The corpse, presented by the organisation VIVIT, is the world’s only semi-synthetic cadaver. Filled with real organs, the cadaver has been cleverly designed to create a similar experience to that of a real human corpse. It even has visible blood pooling on the skin and body hair. I was extremely impressed with this piece of equipment, but it may not be such a fascinating sight for those of a scream-ish nature. The cadaver features a realistic Y-shaped incision down the torso, allowing a full view of the organs inside. It’s evident how much time has been spent on perfecting this model.
Sam, who informed us that he’s completed roughly 25 real human dissections, started by explaining the most important terms when describing conditions post-mortem. This included an in-depth discussion about anatomical position and body dimensions. He then went on to explain brain anatomy and the body’s process after death.
According to The Post Mortem Live, the point of the event is to be able to “expose students to real specimens, to bolster human anatomy in context, and develop practical skills.”
Dissections of the brain, lungs, heart and several other organs was a relaxed but informative experience. Gloves and sanitation stations were provided, and Holly was on hand to answer any questions participants had about the procedure. Guests were provided with tools and allowed to explore the workings of the organs at their leisure. As the evening went on, participants learnt more about the story of the cadaver based on the injuries and conditions of his body.
Attendees included NHS workers, medical students from several universities, scientists and members of the general public looking to enhance their anatomy and post-mortem knowledge. Communication with those around you was encouraged throughout the event, adding a welcome social aspect.
After more of the presentation and dissection, the cause of death of the cadaver was released, signalling an end to this fantastic experience. Holly, whose knowledge and enthusiasm about the event was admirable, remained on guard to answer any lingering questions after the show.
I spoke to Tash Littleford, the business development manager, to get her opinion on the purpose of the event:
“We absolutely believe that the experience is more beneficial with the inclusion of real specimens, we’re giving the audience the opportunity to learn through hands-on dissection, something that is not widely available. After all, how can there be a post-mortem without dissection?”
To have events such as this one open to the general public is a large step forward towards a more death-accepting society. I believe that events aiming to provide a realistic experience of death and the medical/post-mortem industry are crucial in encouraging a new generation of professionals to pursue that line of work.
My only critique of this event was a lack of readily available information prior to arrival. This would have been very useful, especially considering the serious subject matter which left attendees unsure of what they were walking into. Perhaps some updates to the website and more communication with ticket holders are in order.
All four hours of this experience were thoroughly enjoyable, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who is considering booking a ticket.
After being asked about the future of The Post Mortem Live, Tash stated: “We are continuously evolving and improving our experiences, The Post-Mortem Live will be returning to Scotland in 2022 with a brand new tour and a new case. We can’t wait!”
Tickets to the 2021 (and 2022) tour are available on their website.
Feature Image Credit: The Post-Mortem Live. com