Dealing with death confronts us with a cornucopia of problems. A particular - albeit long neglected - difficulty arises concerning the moral status of dead human bodies. On the one hand, we assume that what constitutes a human being - in particular human value and dignity - comes to an end with her death. On the other hand, we have strong intuitions about the duty to handle dead bodies with respect instead of violating their dignity. For example, consider the debates on organ transplantation, the plastination of human corpses for public exhibitions, and the use of human corpses as ‘crash test dummies.’ Thus, paradoxically, we seem to simultaneously deny and recognise the dignity of dead human bodies. However, this tension can be resolved by way of two argumentative steps. First, it behoves us to reconsider the status of dead human bodies. Second, we have to clarify our understanding of human dignity. In my paper, I argue that a human being’s existence does not end with her death. In fact, dead people are still human beings. Although we usually do not treat dead humans as if they have dignity, because they do not fulfil the particular sets of criteria we associate with dignity, it turns out that dead human beings still have dignity. So, far from being without dignity, dead humans belong to a group of people who are extremely vulnerable to dignity violations. It is their material and immaterial presence that enables and forces their environment to interact with them. Through interaction a realm is constituted in which the concept of human dignity starts to make sense and where human dignity itself arises. Therefore, any concept of dignity that fails to incorporate these most vulnerable beings that are still present as human beings is highly deficient and problematic. Instead of arguing in favour of the traditional criteria of dignity, I develop a social and interactional concept of dignity. According to this approach, refusing decent and humane treatment to the dead is what Avishai Margalit called ‘human-blindness,’ and constitutes an instance of violation of dignity.
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- Author or Editor: Julia Apollonia Glahn x
Julia Apollonia Glahn
Edited by Nate Hinerman and Julia Apollonia Glahn
This volume offers a selection of articles from authors representing a wide array of disciplines, all of whom explore the following central theme: how can the presence of the dead take life in the hearts of the living? Although individuals die, they can indeed remain “present.” But how? Authors in this volume explicate practical mourning strategies to help survivors cope with the tremendous sadness and emptiness experienced when we lose someone we love.