Death Is That Man Taking Names
Intersections of American Medicine, Law, and Culture
Publication Year: 2002
Judicial reforms in the 1970s of abortion and capital punishment were driven by similarly high valuations of rationality and public decision-making—rejecting physician control over abortion in favor of individual self-control by pregnant women and subjecting unsupervised jury decisions for capital punishment to supposed rationally guided supervision by judges. These reforms also attempt to suppress persistently ambivalent attitudes toward death, and are therefore prone to inflicting unjustified suffering on pregnant women and death-sentenced prisoners.
In this profound and subtle account of psychological and social forces underlying American cultural attitudes toward death, Robert A. Burt maintains that unacknowledged ambivalence is likely to undermine the beneficent goals of post-1970s reforms and harm the very people these changes were intended to help.
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Quote
The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed national foundation that engages in nonpartisan analysis, study, research, and communication on significant issues in health policy. The Fund makes available the results of its work in meetings with decision-makers, reports, articles, and books. ...
Good friends have read the manuscript of this book at various stages; I have accepted many of their recommendations, resisted some, and benefited throughout from their attention and support. My thanks to Bruce Ackerman, Steve Arons, Lee Bollinger, Bob Butler, Anne Burt, Linda Burt, Randy Curtis, ...
1. Good Death
As a man going round taking names, death appears threatening, uncontrollable, robbing the living of their identity and leaving pain in his wake. There is no comfort in this vision, and American culture has not embraced it. We have sought comfort by imagining death in another format: a different man taking names, one might say— ...
2. Hidden Death
In 1947, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rendered a decision that can be understood as both an early expression and a wise rejection of the reform impulse that was to erupt twenty years later into the dominant contemporary agenda for the dispensing of death. ...
3. Death at War
From the end of the Civil War until the mid-twentieth century, an undeclared state of warfare existed between the “mentally normal” community and people with mental retardation or mental illness, between Whites and Blacks, and between the “living” and the “dying.” ...
4. Judges and Death
The underlying elements in our shifting cultural attitude toward death—the loss of faith in traditional caretakers and the emergence of individual self-control as a preferred alternative to the old ethos—were revealed with special vividness in two court cases in the 1970s: ...
5. Doctors and Death
If it is true that an underlying cultural attitude about death’s inherent wrongfulness has fueled past medical abuses against dying patients, the reformist move to patient self-determination would not be a reliable corrective, because dying people themselves would be prone to mirror the relentless hostility of their physicians. ...
6. Choosing Death
Dying people, their families, and their physicians are all vulnerable to unruly psychological forces unleashed by the imminent prospect of death. The success of the contemporary reformist claim that death can be subject to rational control depends on the capacity of vulnerable people to tame these unruly forces. ...
7. The Death Penalty
The death penalty is the paradigmatic expression of officially sanctioned involuntary killing. There is, moreover, no pretense of mercy; it is intended as punishment, even though constitutional norms against “cruel and unusual punishment” restrain its administration. ...
8. All the Days of My Life
Our publicly proclaimed motives are impeccable: the death penalty must be administered without arbitrariness, without discrimination against racial minorities or poor people, and only with the most intense scrutiny by impartial judges to assure that the entire enterprise is beyond reproach. ...