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Respecting corpses: The ethics of grave re-use

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Publication details

DateAccepted/In press - 5 Jan 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2016
DatePublished (current) - 2017
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)1-14
Early online date7/06/16
Original languageEnglish


The paper argues that grave re-use cannot be ethically evaluated simply by adverting to cognate issues, such as archeological and medical ethics, since grave re-use comprises a very specific type of disturbance. Whilst there is no general ethical prohibition against disturbing the dead, a more detailed analysis is required in the case of English Victorian ‘perpetuity graves’. It is argued that, even granted that posthumous harms exist, on a proper understanding of what motivated purchase of perpetuity graves their re-use does not constitute a prohibitive posthumous harm. Objections to grave re-use on the grounds of the wellbeing of the living are then considered. Repugnance towards grave re-use is grounded in solicitous attitudes towards the dead and ontological anxiety about the fate of our own and our loved one’s bodies. Nonetheless, repugnance should not be a weighty consideration in the policy debate. Finally, major pragmatic considerations in favour of grave re-use are reiterated. In sum, arguments against grave re-use are weak, and pragmatic arguments for grave re-use are strong, so re-using graves is ethically permissible.

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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an author-produced version of a paper accepted for publication. Uploaded with permission of the publisher/copyright holder. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


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