Law and the dead body: Is a corpse a person or a thing?

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The central puzzle of the law of the dead is that a corpse is both a person and a thing. A dead human body is a material object - a messy, maybe dangerous, perhaps valuable, often useful, and always tangible thing. But a dead human being is also something very different: It is also my father, and my friend, perhaps my child, and some day, me. For even the most secular among us, a human corpse is at the least a very peculiar and particular kind of thing. Scholars generally divide the law of the dead body into the three intertwined realms of defining, using, and disposing of the dead, and debates in each realm center on where and how to draw the line between person and object. The thing-ness of the dead human body is never stable or secure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-125
Number of pages11
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Oct 13 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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