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
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The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed national foundation thatengages in nonpartisan analysis, study, research, and communication onsignificant issues in health policy. The Fund makes available the results ofits work in meetings with decision-makers, reports, articles, and books.This is the seventh of the series of California/Milbank Books on...
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Good friends have read the manuscript of this book at various stages; Ihave accepted many of their recommendations, resisted some, and bene-fited throughout from their attention and support. My thanks to BruceAckerman, Steve Arons, Lee Bollinger, Bob Butler, Anne Burt, LindaBurt, Randy Curtis, Owen Fiss, Kathy Foley, Dan Fox, Jay Katz, Rogan...
1. Good Death
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As a man going round taking names, death appears threatening, un-controllable, robbing the living of their identity and leaving pain in hiswake. There is no comfort in this vision, and American culture has notembraced it. We have sought comfort by imagining death in anotherformat: a different man taking names, one might say—a man adminis-...
2. Hidden Death
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In 1947, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals forthe Second Circuit rendered a decision that can be understood as bothan early expression and a wise rejection of the reform impulse that wasto erupt twenty years later into the dominant contemporary agenda forthe dispensing of death. The three judges were Learned Hand, Augus-...
3. Death at War
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From the end of the Civil War until the mid-twentieth century, an un-declared state of warfare existed between the “mentally normal” com-munity and people with mental retardation or mental illness, betweenWhites and Blacks, and between the “living” and the “dying.” Thesehostilities were masked, and open aggression thereby somewhat con-...
4. Judges and Death
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The underlying elements in our shifting cultural attitude towarddeath—the loss of faith in traditional caretakers and the emergence ofindividual self-control as a preferred alternative to the old ethos—wererevealed with special vividness in two court cases in the 1970s: the Quin-lan decision in the New Jersey state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court’s...
5. Doctors and Death
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If it is true that an underlying cultural attitude about death’s inherentwrongfulness has fueled past medical abuses against dying patients, thereformist move to patient self-determination would not be a reliablecorrective, because dying people themselves would be prone to mirrorthe relentless hostility of their physicians. The stage would thus be set...
6. Choosing Death
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Dying people, their families, and their physicians are all vulnerable tounruly psychological forces unleashed by the imminent prospect ofdeath. The success of the contemporary reformist claim that death canbe subject to rational control depends on the capacity of vulnerablepeople to tame these unruly forces. The reformist claim, moreover, rests...
7. The Death Penalty
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The death penalty is the paradigmatic expression of officially sanctionedinvoluntary killing. There is, moreover, no pretense of mercy; it is in-tended as punishment, even though constitutional norms against “crueland unusual punishment” restrain its administration. We can nonethelessdiscern important lessons from American efforts during the past thirty...
8. All the Days of My Life
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Our publicly proclaimed motives are impeccable: the death penaltymust be administered without arbitrariness, without discriminationagainst racial minorities or poor people, and only with the most intensescrutiny by impartial judges to assure that the entire enterprise is beyondreproach. This was the explicit commitment that the United States Su-...
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Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2002
Series Title: California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public