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The Legal Rights of the Corpse Considered in New Book by Bioethics Scholar Norman Cantor

November 11, 2010 – 
What happens to our bodies during and after the various forms of cadaver disposal available? Who controls the fate of human remains? What legal and moral constraints apply?

In After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver (Georgetown University Press, October 2010), legal scholar Norman Cantor provides a graphic, informative, and entertaining exploration of these and other questions related to the disposal of human remains. Control of a cadaver is explored with regard not only to mode and place of disposition of remains, but also to use of cadaveric body parts in education, research, tissue transplant, and procreation. The controversies surrounding the disposal of the remains of baseball legend Ted Williams and actress Anna Nicole Smith as well as less-celebrated figures underscore the importance of leaving instructions directing post-mortem disposal.

After We Die   
Cantor argues that a corpse maintains a “quasi-human status” granting it certain rights — both legal and moral. One of a corpse’s purported rights is to have its predecessor’s disposal choices upheld. After We Die reviews unconventional ways in which a person can extend a personal legacy via their corpse’s role in medical education, scientific research, or tissue transplantation. Another cadaveric right is to be treated with respect and dignity. After We Die reflects on the limits that “post-mortem human dignity” poses upon disposal options, particularly the use of a cadaver or its parts in educational or artistic displays, or for utilitarian purposes as in furniture or clothes.

Professor Cantor is Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at Rutgers School of Law–Newark. He is the author of the books Making Medical Decisions for the Profoundly Mentally Disabled, Advance Directives and the Pursuit of Death with Dignity, and Legal Frontiers of Death and Dying as well as numerous law review and medical journal articles on legal and ethical issues in end-of-life care. He earned an A.B. cum laude from Princeton and a J.D. magna cum laude from Columbia Law School. He served as a visiting professor on the law faculties at Columbia University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University, and as a Merck Visiting Scholar at Seton Hall Law School.