Abstract: Chopin’s Heart

DATE:  JUNE 9, 2013 
TITLE:  “Chopin's Heart” 
SPEAKER:   Wilfred N. Arnold, Ph. D., Adjunct Professor of History and 
Philosophy of Medicine and Onetime Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular 
Biology, Kansas University Medical Center. 

"Chopin’s Heart" 

 Frédéric Chopin was born near Warsaw, Poland, in 1810 but from 1831 lived 
mostly in France where he achieved international acclaim for his music in spite 
of a debilitating and life-shortening illness. He died in 1849 and an autopsy by 
Dr. Jean Cruveilhier supposedly confirmed tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx, 
together with cachexia, although written documentation was subsequently lost. 

Chopin’s body was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, except for the 
heart which was preserved in alcohol (cognac), sealed in a crystal urn, taken to 
his native Poland by his sister Ludwika, and sequestered within a pillar of the 
Holy Cross Church, in Warsaw. 

In 1987, a novel analysis of the available information led to the suggestion of 
cystic fibrosis as Chopin’s congenital disease. In 2006, a group of Polish 
biologists not only adopted this diagnosis but attempted to justify genetic 
analysis on a sample of Chopin’s heart, “to deepen our knowledge about the great 
Polish composer, but foremost to give hope and meaning to those who nowadays 
suffer from genetically inherited disorders.” [To suggest that discovering a 
famous person with the same disease would bring understanding or solace to 
current patients seems to me to be a specious argument.] To date, Polish 
authorities have refused DNA testing on the alcohol-preserved organ. 

This PowerPoint presentation will show that the clinical and pathological 
evidence for tuberculosis, a microbial disease, remains much more compelling 
than that for the genetic disease of cystic fibrosis and this surely adds to the 
societal and religious arguments that have been expressed against invasive 
interference with the relic.
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