Last rights: the ethics of research on the dead

J Appl Philos. 2002;19(1):31-41. doi: 10.1111/1468-5930.00202.


People have strong views about being the subjects of research after their deaths. Should these views be given any weight and, if so, how much? How could we find out what the views are and what should we do if we cannot? This paper defends the idea of posthumous interests and discusses the significance of those interests for research ethics. It argues that we can be guided by a symmetry between the interests of living and dead people and uses posthumous privacy as an example. It also claims that the weight of those interests might not decline even over long periods of time. The arguments have important implications for the ethics of (amongst others) biomedical, archaeological, anthropological, historical, and sociological research.

MeSH terms

  • Cadaver*
  • Data Collection
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Human Body
  • Human Experimentation*
  • Humans
  • Ownership
  • Privacy
  • Religion