Death Stories: Slice, Part 2

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There’s a mythology about Jernigan’s body.  Some say he was fat from twelve years of prison indolence; doubtless this myth derives from the slightly swollen image of his corpse later seen by millions.  The contradictory story is that he was buff, a jail-house weight-lifter.  Actually, he looked pretty average at the end of his life--that was part of his appeal for the scientists who converted him.  Another set of myths distorts his motives.  Some say he donated his body to the Visible Human Project so he’d gain electronic immortality.  Others say he meant for the donation to lead to a more mundane kind of immortality: a true-crime book.  Still others say his family didn’t want to pay funeral expenses.  In fact, when he donated his body to science, Jernigan couldn’t have known what would happen to it.

His lawyer and friend Mark Ticer said he offered his body to science to atone, in the only way left to him, for the murder that haunted him.  Ticer thinks his friend would have approved of the use his body was put to, if not the macabre fame that went with it.

Raw rib-eye steaks.  Or, better yet, butterfly pork chops, because they’re symmetrical.  I was looking at cross-sections of Paul Jernigan’s body on the Web, and they looked like butterfly pork chops.  They even had the sleek look of cellophane wrapping, as if they were fresh from the grocer.

In a moment of morbid curiosity, I decided to have a look at the private parts.  The cross-section of Jernigan’s thighs and testicle (he'd lost one long ago in an operation) looked like an image produced by a lava lamp -- bubbles in a viscous liquid.  Though the image was still and would stay as long as I liked, it seemed evanescent; it was ready to transform into something else.  Of course, I could change it into a different body part with two clicks of the mouse.

A controversy drew my attention.  I was in a university library, and the fellow at the next terminal, a whippet-thin student in a T-shirt and baggy jeans, had been caught printing out nude photos.  The librarian chastised the pornography fan with remarks like “What made you think you could do something like this?” and “Didn’t you realize we can monitor whatever you’re looking at?”  I wondered if some hidden authority was monitoring my examination of a stranger’s testicle.  Would such an authority see his electronic body as an abstraction, or would she recognize it as human meat?  Which would seem worse?

My depiction of the human body will be as clear to you as if you had the natural man before you; for if you wish thoroughly to know the parts of man, anatomically, you--or your eye--must see it from different aspects, considering it from below and from above and from its sides, turning it about and seeking the origin of each member. In this way the natural anatomy is sufficient for your comprehension.
--Leonardo da Vinci




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