In a claim sure to be controversial, Cantor argues that a corpse maintains a “quasi-human status" granting it certain protected rights—both legal and moral. One of a corpse’s purported rights is to have its predecessor’s disposal choices upheld. After We Die reviews unconventional ways in which a person can extend a personal legacy via their corpse’s role in medical education, scientific research, or tissue transplantation. This underlines the importance of leaving instructions directing post-mortem disposal. Another cadaveric right is to be treated with respect and dignity. After We Die outlines the limits that “post-mortem human dignity” poses upon disposal options, particularly the use of a cadaver or its parts in educational or artistic displays.
Contemporary illustrations of these complex issues abound. In 2007, the well-publicized death of Anna Nicole Smith highlighted the passions and disputes surrounding the handling of human remains. Similarly, following the 2003 death of baseball great Ted Williams, the family in-fighting and legal proceedings surrounding the corpse’s proposed cryogenic disposal also raised contentious questions about the physical, legal, and ethical issues that emerge after we die. In the tradition of Sherwin Nuland's How We Die, Cantor carefully and sensitively addresses the post-mortem handling of human remains.
Norman L. Cantor is a distinguished professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School, Newark, who taught in the fields of constitutional law, contracts, and bioethics. He has published widely in legal and medical journals on the topic of the legal handling of dying medical patients, and is the author of three books: Making Medical Decisions for the Profoundly Mentally Disabled, Advance Directives and the Pursuit of Death with Dignity, and Legal Frontiers of Death and Dying.
"Cantor develops a careful and accessible ethic of autonomy and dignity regarding forgoing life-prolonging medical treatment... " -- Ethics
"A thoughtful, informative and sensitive text... " -- European Medical Journal
"Professor Cantor of Rutgers University School of Law has created a scholarly and sophisticated, yet quite accessible, legal analysis of the subject of advance directives... detailed, exhaustively referenced... " -- The Florida Bar Journal
"This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning about advance directives for health care." -- Doody's Health Sciences Book Review Journal
"Cantor provides a very thorough, reliable, and readable guide... " -- Robert M. Veatch, Director, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University
Cantor examines the medical, legal, and moral issues surrounding advance medical directives -- those devices aimed at controlling medical intervention during the dying process after the patient is no longer competent.
In this book, Norman Cantor analyzes the legal and moral status of people with profound mental disabilities—those with extreme cognitive impairments that prevent their exercise of medical self-determination. He proposes a legal and moral framework for surrogate medical decision making on their behalf. The issues Cantor explores will be of interest to professionals in law, medicine, psychology, philosophy, and ethics, as well as to parents, guardians, and health care providers who face perplexing issues in the context of surrogate medical decision making.
The profoundly mentally disabled are thought by some moral philosophers to lack the minimum cognitive ability for personhood. Countering this position, Cantor advances both theoretical and practical arguments for according them full legal and moral status. He also argues that the concept of intrinsic human dignity should have an integral role in shaping the bounds of surrogate decision making. Thus, he claims, while profoundly mentally disabled persons are not entitled to make their own medical decisions, respect for intrinsic human dignity dictates their right to have a conscientious surrogate make medical decisions on their behalf. Cantor discusses the criteria that bind such surrogates. He asserts, contrary to popular wisdom, that the best interests of the disabled person are not always the determinative standard: the interests of family or others can sometimes be considered. Surrogates may even, consistent with the intrinsic human dignity standard, sometimes authorize tissue donation or participation in nontherapeutic medical research by profoundly disabled persons. Intrinsic human dignity limits the occasions for such decisions and dictates close attention to the preferences and feelings of the profoundly disabled persons themselves. Cantor also analyzes the underlying philosophical rationale that makes these decision-making criteria consistent with law and morals.
At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.
Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?
There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.
Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man.