After We Die

The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver

Norman L. Cantor

"A fascinating book, written in a lively, accessible style."
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What will become of our earthly remains? What happens to our bodies during and after the various forms of cadaver disposal available? Who controls the fate of human remains? What legal and moral constraints apply? Legal scholar Norman Cantor provides a graphic, informative, and entertaining exploration of these questions. After We Die chronicles not only a corpse’s physical state but also its legal and moral status, including what rights, if any, the corpse possesses.

In a claim sure to be controversial, Cantor argues that a corpse maintains a “quasi-human status" granting it certain protected rights—both legal and moral. One of a corpse’s purported rights is to have its predecessor’s disposal choices upheld. After We Die reviews unconventional ways in which a person can extend a personal legacy via their corpse’s role in medical education, scientific research, or tissue transplantation. This underlines the importance of leaving instructions directing post-mortem disposal. Another cadaveric right is to be treated with respect and dignity. After We Die outlines the limits that “post-mortem human dignity” poses upon disposal options, particularly the use of a cadaver or its parts in educational or artistic displays.

Contemporary illustrations of these complex issues abound. In 2007, the well-publicized death of Anna Nicole Smith highlighted the passions and disputes surrounding the handling of human remains. Similarly, following the 2003 death of baseball great Ted Williams, the family in-fighting and legal proceedings surrounding the corpse’s proposed cryogenic disposal also raised contentious questions about the physical, legal, and ethical issues that emerge after we die. In the tradition of Sherwin Nuland's How We Die, Cantor carefully and sensitively addresses the post-mortem handling of human remains.

Table of Contents


Part I: Status and Rights of the Cadaver

1. When Does a Person Become a Corpse?

2. The Human Nature of a Cadaver

3. The Legal Status of the Postliving: Do Corpses Have Rights?

Part II: Disposition of Human Remains

4. Decomposition of the Body and Efforts to Slow Its Disintegration

5. Final Disposal of Human Remains

6. Eternal Preservation of the Deceased: Literally and Figuratively

Part III: The Multiple Roles of a Cadaver

7. The Cadaver as Supplier of Used Body Parts

8. The Cadaver as Teacher, Research Subject, or Forensic Witness

9. The Cadaver as Parent

Part IV: Abuses of the Cadaver: What Does Decency Demand?

10. Body Snatching, Then and Now

11. Desecration of Human Remains

12. Public Display and the Dignity of Human Remains

13. Don't Neglect the Fate of Your Remains



List of Cases



"Highly readable and offers several examples of Cantor's wry sense of humor. It also reveals an extraordinary depth and breadth of research and advances a number of serious conclusions."—Journal of Legal Medicine

"A fascinating book, written in a lively, accessible style."—Choice

"Although death is a universal experience, few of us have looked beyond the simple choice between burial and cremation. For those who share the author's curiosity, Mr. Cantor has provided an informative, thorough, and often entertaining explication of the fate of our bodies."—New York Journal of Books

"Norman Cantor has taken a subject that could be dull and dry and written an extensive and interesting account of the various customs and practical questions that might arise concerning the care of a corpse. . . . Cantor's ingenuity is manifested by his ability to present lively examples and intriguing anecdotes."—Health Progress

"Cantor's curiosity about the dead is catching. A moment's dip into this book can easily turn into an afternoon as he brings together—with clarity, insight, and, dare we admit, some entertaining value—all of the current major legal, ethical, and social issues regarding death."—Lois Shepherd, professor of law and biomedical ethics, University of Virginia

"After We Die is an honest, insightful, and informative look at how the body is handled after death and how much of this handling can be preplanned by those who wish to control their own fate. It challenges our aversion to the corpse, or more specifically our thoughts about our own corpsehood, and convinces us that the moral of the story is to articulate in advance our preferences for its disposition."—Christine Quigley, author of The Corpse: A History and Modern Mummies: The Preservation of the Human Body in the Twentieth Century


Supplemental Materials


Honorable Mention for the 2010 PROSE Award in Law and Legal Studies of the Association of American Publishers. First Place in the 2011 Illustrated Cover, Large Non-Profit category of the Washington Book Publishers Book and Design Effectiveness Awards

About the Author

Norman L. Cantor is a distinguished professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School, Newark, who taught in the fields of constitutional law, contracts, and bioethics. He has published widely in legal and medical journals on the topic of the legal handling of dying medical patients, and is the author of three books: Making Medical Decisions for the Profoundly Mentally Disabled, Advance Directives and the Pursuit of Death with Dignity, and Legal Frontiers of Death and Dying.

384 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-695-8
Nov 2010

384 pp., 6 x 9

Nov 2010

384 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-713-9
Nov 2010

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