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Cold room in forensic medicine at Charité Berlin

With corpse only human dead are referred to, while under a corpse (from Middle High German līch , from Old High German līh , 'body, flesh, corpse') the dead body of a person or animal is understood. For animal corpses there are the more precise terms carrion , carcass and animal body .

In parts of Austria and southern Germany, the term Leich 'is also used for the burial process , which traditionally includes a final funeral feast .

Legal aspects in Germany

Care for the dead, public law

In Germany, the care of the dead for a human corpse is the responsibility of the next of kin, unless the deceased has made any other arrangements in accordance with his post-mortem right to self-determination. It exists regardless of the legal classification of the corpse.

The relatives can be called upon by the public administration for the costs of the funeral , even if they have neither become heirs (e.g. after the inheritance has been rejected ) nor are they liable for maintenance within the meaning of Section 1615 (2) BGB . The exact regulations are met by the funeral laws of the federal states .

At the same time there is a corresponding right to care for the dead, in which third parties are not allowed to intervene. Who is entitled to care for the dead decides about the type of burial and the place of burial.

The law introduces a number of sanitary measures to protect the public from the real or perceived dangers of the corpse. So-called poison certificates exist as well as provisions for the transport of the deceased. A corpse may only be transported to a location other than the intended burial site after the regulatory office of the place of death has issued a corpse passport (see also the Infection Protection Act ).

civil right

The thing legal classification of the body, in particular with regard to the right to privacy , controversial . Whether the corpse is a thing can ultimately be left open, because it is withdrawn from legal transactions, because the body of the deceased cannot be part of the inheritance by way of universal succession ( § 1922 BGB) , since it only affects the property . The dispute about the property of a corpse that is not used for scientific purposes has no practical relevance. There is no legal regulation, for example, about the use of corpses in science.

Criminal law

The property of the corpse of a person within the meaning of the German Criminal Code is controversial. According to one view, this should not be a mere thing, since human dignity also works beyond death . According to another opinion, it is a matter, but not property . In any case, a corpse is therefore not a suitable target for theft or damage to property . In this respect, only disturbing the peace of the dead is considered a criminal offense .

There is an exception when a corpse is used for research or exhibition purposes and is therefore no longer intended for burial .

A corpse is eligible for criminal investigation ensured , but not seized , since the person is no contradiction may appeal and no property exists at the corpse. Accordingly, no transfer of ownership is possible.

Corpses in the media

Since 2000, there has been an increasing number of American television series that view the dead not only as a starting point for investigations, but in which concrete work is carried out on the corpse in the course of investigations, examinations or burials. The special thing about these current series phenomena is the explicit focus on death, dead bodies and dying. Detailed recordings of evidence on the dead body or the re-enactment of the course of events and the specific moment of death testify to the search for clues. The focus is on the dead, physical testimonies and thanatological measures determine the scenery.

American series are, for example, Six Feet Under , Pushing Daisies , Dexter , Navy CIS , Body of Proof , CSI: On the trail of the perpetrators and their spin-offs CSI: Miami or CSI: NY . German productions with a similar format include Post Mortem and RIS - The Language of the Dead .

Commercialization of the handling of corpses

Since 1996 the anatomist Gunther von Hagens has put corpses on public display with his exhibition Body Worlds that had previously been preserved using the plastination process . In 2008 von Hagens had a legal check whether parts of his collection could be used commercially, i.e. whether they could be sold to anyone. After protests, he refrained from this business idea.


  • Romedio Schmitz-Esser: The corpse in the Middle Ages. Embalming, cremation and the cultural construction of the dead body (= Middle Ages research. Volume 48). Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2014, ISBN 978-3-7995-4367-5 .
  • Norbert Fischer : On dealing with dead bodies. In: Liselotte Hermes da Fonseca, Thomas Kliche (Ed.): Seductive corpses - forbidden decay. “Body Worlds” as a key social event. Lengerich 2006, pp. 113-124.
  • Liselotte Hermes da Fonseca, Thomas Kliche (ed.): Seductive corpses - forbidden decay. “Body Worlds” as a key social event . Lengerich 2006
  • Christian Lenk and Nils Hoppe : A model for the constitution of rights of use to human tissue and body materials. In: Jochen Taupitz (Ed.): Commercialization of the human body. Springer, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-540-69894-4 , pp. 199-212.
  • Thomas Macho : Death metaphors - on the logic of borderline experiences. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-11419-0 .
  • Friedrich Casimir Medicus: Lecture on the incorruptibility of human bodies. In: Historia et commentationes Academiae electoralis… Theodoro-Palatina, Volume 2, Mannheim 1770, pp. 309ff. ( Digitized version )

Web links

Commons : corpse  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: corpse  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Corpse  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ RG, judgment of September 25, 1930, RGZSt. 64, 313, 316
  2. Julia Jüttner: Dead in Discs for Everyone in Spiegel Online , February 4, 2008.
  3. ^ "Dr. Tod" refrains from selling corpses , Die Welt , November 16, 2011.