By Arifa Akbar
They've had the first televised autopsy and the first on-screen assisted suicide. The latest wheeze to challenge the British public's attitudes to dying comes from Channel 4, which is appealing to the terminally ill to find someone to donate their body to be mummified for a reality television show - then displayed in a museum for two years.
Among all the sobering possibilities of how to spend your last days is one offered by a film production company on behalf of Channel 4. It is advertising in spirit magazines for volunteers in search of celluloid immortality.
The ad reads: "We are currently keen to talk to someone who, faced with the knowledge of their own terminal illness and all that it entails, would nonetheless consider undergoing the process of ancient Egyptian embalming."
The proposal from production firm Fulcrum TV has received development funds from Channel 4. Documentary-makers are working with a scientist who claims to have unlocked the secrets of the mummification process, which was employed for 3000 years, reaching a peak during the New Kingdom between 1500 and 1000BC.
It rendered the body embalmed or "mummified" in the belief that it was a necessary requirement for the afterlife.
Egyptians were able to preserve bodies for longer than any other civilisation.
Fulcrum executive producer Richard Belfield spoke at length to an undercover reporter posing as a possible volunteer.
"We would like to film with you over the next few months to understand who you are and what sort of person you are so the viewers get to know you and have a proper emotional response to you," he said.
"It may sound macabre but we have mummified a large number of pigs to check the process worked and it does.
"We have lined up scientists to support the project and found a place approved by the Human Tissue Authority where the mummification would take place.
"Afterwards, one thought was - though this is not obligatory - to put the body in an exhibition in a proper museum so people can properly understand the mummification process.
"That is something we would be flexible about. But we'd like to keep the body for two or three years to see that the mummification process worked. Then the normal funeral arrangements could be made."
Mr Belfield said no payment could be made: "No, not as such. Of course we would cover all costs. But the advice from our compliance lawyers is that it would be wrong to offer payment."
He added: "The Egyptians were extremely clever organic chemists. Some of the materials they used came from as far afield as Burma and the Far East. One resin they used we know only existed in Burma. One thing we want to explore is how they developed their knowledge of chemistry."
Channel 4 has confirmed that it has contributed funds to Fulcrum to help with development. A spokesman said the channel supported the project: "If the scientists are able to find a willing donor, we'd be interested in following the process.
"If the scientists have solved one of the ancient world's most enduring mysteries [mummification], it would give us a unique insight into science and Egyptian history."