Respecting the Dead

In current day, we are encouraged to write a will stating who receives things that were in our ownership and what they are so when we die no one must worry about it or fight over anything. However, if our name is not known and our body cannot be identified then the will becomes useless. Unidentified bodies are called either Jane Doe or John Doe (dependent on the person’s gender), to respect that they do have a name. There are certain ways in which we can respect the dead properly, yet there are so many instances of disrespect of the dead.

Mutato nominee means name change in Latin. In the book Bones by Marilyn Nelson, the skeleton/man that the story centers around was an African American male named Fortune. When he passed away his body was dissected and abused, as he never provided his consent. His name became lost after some time, and his skeleton later ended up in a museum where the man’s name, who they forgot used to be a man, was changed to Larry. Luckily for Fortune, someone took interest in this story and created a book based off of this skeleton and gave readers some insight into what had occurred and honored Fortune’s story in the process.

Another example of disrespect of the dead came from Zone One by Colson Whitehead, where there are both human characters and zombies. The zombies are somewhere between life and death so there is question as to whether or not it is moral for humans to kill them. Is it putting them out of their misery like we do to animals who are so sick that they have no chance of recovery?

In Zulus by Percival Everett, the main character, Alice Achitophel, broke free from her old fat body which was beheaded and emerged in a new body that she inhibited. Although she had changed bodies, she was still part of her old one and despite the fact that her old body was beheaded, she was still able to survive and inhabit her old brain. She would have times where her new body would shut down and she could focus on what was she was experiencing in her old head, similar to when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter would have moments where he experienced things from Voldemort’s perspective. Since Alice was unable to be killed in her old body, the abuse the rebels from the camp her old body was stuck in was even more tortuous and reminds us that we should think about what feelings a person would have when their body is opened and examined after their death. How can their body be treated in certain ways without their consent?

Henrietta Lack was an African American who died from cervical cancer and after her death, doctors extracted her cells without her consent and used them for medical research as the article Henrietta Lacks from the John’s Hopkins website describes. The extracted cells were labeled “HeLa” and the medical researchers discovered that, for the first time in history, “a human cell line was able to be reproduced in a laboratory setting.” After this discovery, the cells were used to help study many medical problems and help the researchers determine a cause and move towards finding cures. Additionally, questions of human immortality surfaced because of Henrietta’s reproducing cells.

In Home by Toni Morrison, a man was killed in a fight between him and his son that they had been forced into. The fight between the two of them ended with the father’s death and afterward his body was left uncared for. When the main characters of the book found out about this, they went to gather the bones and created a proper burial for the man so he could rest at peace, be remembered, and be respected. Since they did not know his name, the grave marker said, “Here Stands A Man.” (Morrison, 145). Another example of forgotten dead later recognized is in New York City. A large area that was an African burial ground was forgotten and the land was built on and covered as years past. According to the MAAP article on this historical burial ground, an estimated 10,000-20,000 bodies are buried in this hidden cemetery that extends beyond where the physical land dedication is. The land was forgotten about for years and then rediscovered when the area became a construction area for a new building project. When the first skeletons were discovered their remains were roughly treated and not properly cared for. After backlash from the public, those who were disrupting the remains were forced to do so more cautiously, but even then, the remains of each of these individuals was not respected. The national monument structure that was built at the site stands to represent and respect the dead. The center of the monument was built in a spiral shape with a circular globe in its center. The spiral around the globe has etched symbols in the walls in representation of different cultures, languages, and religions to honor all of the possible ways of respecting the dead underneath the site’s ground.

Another time in history when deceased bodies were disregarded was in the era of World War II when the Nazi’s became overwhelmingly powerful. According to A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust, in 1933 there were a few Nazi concentration camps that were running and at these camps the Nazis mass murdered the people they had imprisoned. Nazis would create mass burials for their murder victims. They would simply dig a very large hole and once they filled it with bodies, they would cover it and begin a new hole.

Respect for others should be given no matter what circumstances occur. Love or hate, power or not, life or death, everyone deserves some respect. But remember, dead people are still people. They lived a life and had thoughts and opinions to consider just like the living do.

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