La Trobe Law School’s Centre for Health, Law & Society Annual Public Lecture took place on Wednesday 30 August 2017 at the State Library Victoria. The Lecture was given by Dr John Troyer, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, a globally leading and unique interdisciplinary research centre based in the UK.
In the Lecture entitled The Future of Human Mortality: Death, Technology and the Law: Death is the Future. Death is Always the Future, Dr Troyer explored how the future of human mortality is much less about whether or not it can be ‘cured.’ Instead, a new 21st century approach to death, dying, and the dead body is only possible if we first-world humans reject the denial and repression thesis and come to understand our increasingly technologically mediated mortality and its impact on the law. The real question is whether and if that scenario is desirable.
Dr Troyer highlighted that for a long time, we twenty-first century humans supported a post-Victorian death-denying culture, and this continues to be the case even today. Thus, the image of the late twentieth-century/early twenty-first century death-denying prude is emblazoned on our restrained and mute denials of death. He pointed out that it seems far easier in our daily discourse to present the death-is-now-denied-and-repressed thesis while making nostalgic gestures towards the Victorians than actually discussing death.
He went on to explore how since the mid-19th century, the first world, Western corpse has been inextricably linked with multiple modes of popular fascination and industrial age human technologies. One current, dominant discussion regarding the dead body-to-technology relationship has focused on the ecologically sustainable disposal of dead bodies and transforming the funeral into a natural or green process. It is a most evocative discourse.
What the 21st century concept of natural death really suggests is a 19th century pre-industrial age model that often misses the following point: human disposition of the dead body, by whatever means, is a humanly invented practice. Humans digging graves to bury corpses is no less a humanly invented postmortem technology than water based alkaline hydrolysis tissue digestion.
Dr Troyer concluded the Public Lecture by suggesting that the future of human mortality is much less about whether or not it can be ‘cured’: the real question is whether and if that scenario is desirable.
The Centre for Health Law and Society would like to thank Dr Troyer for presenting on the fascinating topic of death, technology and the law.