The Rights of the Dead.

When someone says ‘dead body’ the resultant thought image could be gristly.  But death is the inevitable fate we all share.  While some types of death are perhaps more unfortunate than others, the end result is the same.  In considering this result, people all over the world have had different responses.  While some of them, such as the ancient Egyptian belief that the soul or ka returns to its bodily housing each night, regard the body as a necessary part of the afterlife, others count the husk immaterial after death.  Those beliefs should be given equal respect, despite the needs of those still living.

Take for example an untimely and suspicious death.  Autopsies are required, investigations must proceed, and the corpse or the soul of the departed might be materially harmed by such invasions according to some belief.  Should the needs of society in this case outweigh the individual’s need?  And what of disagreements on how a person should be buried, even within the remaining family?  Or what of the famous dead?  I doubt Mao wanted to be preserved and stared at for decades, or that Shakespeare wanted people to come stare at the spot in the floor where he was once placed.  But who can speak for the dead but living descendants or the public, and who knows that wishes are being fulfilled?

And yet there are people who seek to reclaim what they can from loss, not only for those left behind, but for the rights of the dead themselves.  Take the work of forensic anthropologists in Peru recently.  A massacre site that may (or may not) contain bodies of Shining Path rebels was uncovered that certainly has bodies of children.  DNA testing is being used to identify which bodies might be from families who escaped complete slaughter.  Those remaining will then have time to grieve, knowing for certain the fate of their lost ones.  But what is most telling for me in this article is fear that they will not be able to identify those whose entire families were killed in the slaughter.  To me, that says these people have rights, even in death: a right to justice, and to have the crimes perpetrated against them known.

It reminds me of Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.  There is a way that people become enveloped in the past that the book illuminates, both against their will and better judgment and as a matter or curiosity or morals or any of the other forces that spurs us to action.  Still, within this work as well there is a sense among several characters of the right of loss, the right of those dead who have no one else to speak for themselves.  It’s haunting, in a way, this ultimate fairness we can’t seem to extend to the people we live next to.

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