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Human remains: rights and treatment

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia for Anthropology
EditorsHilary Callan
Place of PublicationOxford
ISBN (Electronic)9781118924396
ISBN (Print)9780470657225
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2018


The question of how we should treat human remains speaks to a more fundamental question: what, if any, are the “rights” of human remains? Do, in other words, mortal remains of dead have any moral standing in and of themselves, or can we understand their significance, and thereby articulate and resolve the question of their treatment, only in reference to the interests of living people? When considering what best to do with human remains contemporary policies and protocols often seem to emphasize the concerns of living people, thereby taking a relativistic and relational approach to these ethical questions. This approach is, however, not without its difficulties and limitations and an alternative possibility is to accord human remains some measure of moral standing as the substance of a once-living-person, who, even in their absence, merits recognition.

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