10 July 2008

Dead Body Law

James Edward Maule notes that there is great disparity concerning the value of a human body for charitable tax deduction purposes, if any. One approach suggests as $45 million value, the other suggests a $4.50 value (for what it is worth, most public policy cost-benefit analysis calculations use a number in the single digit millions of dollars for planning purposes and presumably a corpse is worth much less than a living person).

Recently dead people are entitled to economic stimulus checks as part of the overall tax code.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that sex with dead bodies is a crime, even though there is no specific necrophilia crime on the books in the state, because it constitutes sex without the consent of the victim. A dissenting opinion finds this to be an implausible reading of the statute. Notably, the crime charged was mere "attempted sexual assault" as the perpetrators were thwarted before they could complete their plan. They are also charged with attempted theft of a body, which, of course, present's Maule's question of the value of a human body once again.

The most interesting aspect of dead body law in Colorado is that once a body has been cremated, it no longer counts as a dead body and is instead subject merely to the law governing disposal of small quantities of ashes from any source. This rule appears to be the norm as illustrated by a recent case of a man whose ashes were buried in the Pringles can he invented. There is not uniform national law on the subject in the United States, although some scholars argue that there should be such a uniform law. Also notably, cremation industry would actually like to have greater government regulation of the industry, rather than less regulation. Colorado enacted a major overhaul of regulations of the funeral establishment industry in 2003 which is now codified at Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 12, Article 54.

A new form of body disposal, which involves chemically dissolving dead bodies, is receiving new environmental impact examination. The product is mostly safe to pour down a drain with a proper permit, but there is concern about mercury pollution from dental fillings. Freeze drying bodies is also attracting attention. Environmental consciousness is a major growth area in the funeral industry.

I have handled a case involving a dispute regarding disposition of a dead body, but it is a matter that fortunately doesn't come up very often.


Michael Malak said...

Industries have a tendency to desire increased regulation upon themselves because it increases the barrier to entry for new competitors.

Anonymous said...

From my layman's perspective, the Wisconsin ruling is absurd. A corpse is neither a person nor a victim, so the question of consent is meaningless. Describing necrophilia as "intercourse" or "sexual assault" is likewise odd. It's masturbation, not sex.

I understand laws against necrophilia and desecration of a corpse. I can also understand the practical problem of determining whether sex may have occurred before death, but that's clearly not an issue for a corpse dug up from a cemetery.

If a corpse can be sexually assaulted, of what other crimes can it be a victim, and is this state of lifeless agency perpetual?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I agree. Unless there is convincing evidence that the undead are out there and that they deserve the same rights as the living if they do, this approach is an awkward legal fiction to achieve a merely tolerable result.