Day of the dead

And what about the wishes of descendants? Arafat's case is more clear-cut than most, because his next of kin are alive and supportive of the exhumation. What happens when the family tree has gone sprawling? In an intriguing case, an appellate court denied permission to exhume John Wilkes Booth, in part because it argued that the relatives who sought the exhumation should not override the wishes of Booth's next of kin, who had chosen his resting place more than a century before and presumably wanted him to stay there. The Italian researcher Franco Rollo, who has worked on the mummified remains of the 5,000-year-old "Ötzi the iceman," has argued that ethical considerations are minimal if remains are "old enough to belong to an historical and social epoch that is felt sufficiently different and far from the present one by most people." Some disagree. The bioethicist Soren Holm believes that ethical concerns do apply to long dead people, especially identifiable ones.

In my opinion, exhumations can be a valuable research tool. The dead are dead, after all, while the living are still learning. But not all exhumations produce results of equal value, and we need more debate about when such digs are worthwhile. If conclusive proof of poisoning can be found from Arafat's exhumation (a big if), the jackhammers might be justified.

But consider the request, motivated by a plan to analyse whether the Mona Lisa might be a disguised self-portrait, to disinter Leonardo da Vinci from his resting place in the Loire Valley. While it's an intriguing question, is the answer really worth disturbing Leonardo's grave? If we decide we don't care, are we prepared for the idea that no one will care what happens to our own remains?

Some ethicists and legal scholars hope to create better frameworks for answering these questions, perhaps through the creation of "biohistorical review boards" that could analyse requests for exhumations and other analyses of the dead, much like the review boards that now weigh applications for studies involving living human subjects.

... contd.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views, opinions and comments posted are your, and are not endorsed by this website. You shall be solely responsible for the comment posted here. The website reserves the right to delete, reject, or otherwise remove any views, opinions and comments posted or part thereof. You shall ensure that the comment is not inflammatory, abusive, derogatory, defamatory &/or obscene, or contain pornographic matter and/or does not constitute hate mail, or violate privacy of any person (s) or breach confidentiality or otherwise is illegal, immoral or contrary to public policy. Nor should it contain anything infringing copyright &/or intellectual property rights of any person(s).
comments powered by Disqus