Western attitudes toward death have undergone a remarkable transformation in the last century. For many, death now takes place in the hospital or the hospice following the decision of a doctor to cease providing treatment. As the management of death has passed from the family to health care professionals, it now makes sense to regard the moment and circumstances of death as largely medical phenomena. Moreover, as 'autonomy' has taken a dominant place amongst ethical values, it also makes sense to describe and measure death in terms of its 'acceptability' both to the dying person and his or her survivors. In tandem with these changes, technological innovations have transformed the dead or dying body into a potential source of valuable (and recyclable) biological material. These developments have thrown up new and urgent challenges for legal understandings about the timing of, and criminal responsibility for causing, death both within and outside medical settings. These developments have also disturbed conventional understandings of the corpse as sacred. Topics to be covered may include: death in contemporary Australia, the legal definition of life and death, medical futility and the concept of 'lives not worth living', euthanasia (with and without request), physician-assisted suicide, refusing and withholding life-prolonging treatment in adults and children, the Shipman/Patel scandals, ownership of the corpse and body parts, dead donor organ transplantation, organ sale and theft, posthumous reproduction, 'mercy' killing outside medical settings and the jurisdiction of the Coroner. The unit will interrogate these and other contemporary challenges for the law relating to death and dying both within Australia and, where appropriate, other selected comparator jurisdictions (US, UK and Canada). These will be mapped against socio-historical understandings of the changing meaning of death, dying and serious disability in Western societies, and students will be encouraged to reflect on the broader legal implications of these developments.
Apr 12, 13 and May 10, 11 (9-5)
class presentation (20%) and assignment or 7000wd essay (80%)