Category: Pick The Right Theme (page 2 of 2)

Cannibalism and Kuru

Cannibalism, also known as anthropophagy, is the consumption of the flesh of one human by another.[7] While it may immediately bring feelings of sickness to most, is it actually an ethical practice? Before diving into the ethics of cannibalism, it is important to define the different forms cannibalism can take.

Because there are many types of cannibalism, it is necessary to divide them into two groups: active and passive cannibalism. Active cannibalism is killing someone with the intent to eat them. On the other hand, passive cannibalism is consuming someone that is already dead.[7] Jill Hobbs also divides cannibalism further into groups which focus on the reasons for cannibalism: religious/ritual, emergency/survival, and fetish.[7]

Religious/ritual cannibalism is also known as learned cannibalism because people learn about it from a previous generation. This type of human consumption is commonly used as a practice of respect for elders who have passed.[7] While this type of cannibalism is usually peaceful, violence is sometimes involved when looked at from a ritual angle of the culture. Motivators behind religious cannibalism can also include “the desire for revenge, to crush one’s enemy, to eliminate internal or external threats, to magically stave off negative forces, or simply to feast.”[7]

Ritualistic Cannibalism was practiced by all generations.

Survival cannibalism is defined as consuming the flesh of another human in an emergency to prevent death by starvation.[7] This type of cannibalism can be seen from an example including four Englishmen who were lost at sea in 1884. After their ship got destroyed and they were left with no supplies, three of the men decided to kill the fourth in order to eat his body. They decided to kill this man because he was very sick and death was said to be imminent. By doing this, there would be three survivors total rather than none, so the seamen decided it would be the best option.[6]

The final kind of cannibalism ­­­Hobbs discusses is fetish cannibalism. While many people tend to think of a fetish only as something sexual, this type of cannibalism is considered a fetish because the consumer is “fulfilling the desire to consume human flesh.”[7] This type of cannibalism is the least commonly practiced and discussed.

So, is cannibalism considered ethical or not? When arguing against cannibalism, one of the first arguments to be brought forth is the concept of natural law. Natural law is defined as the order of the world, and to break the natural law is to violate the order of the world. In this sense, many argue that consuming a member of your own species is wrong and immoral..[3]Another common argument against this practice is simply disgust – if the majority of people are disgusted by something then it must be morally wrong.[5] Evolution is also seen as a factor that does not support cannibalism because of the consequences it can have. One consequence involves putting the cannibal at risk of catching disease. If a cannibal does not know why the person they are consuming has died, they could contract a disease that will kill them as well. The more prominent consequence in society is ostracism – especially if violence was used to obtain the corpse.[5]

        Josh Milburn describes how cannibalism can be both ethical and unethical depending on the situation and whether or not consent is given. He divides cannibalism into three categories: violent, corpse interference, and waste.[5] All of these types of cannibalism can be completed with or without consent. Violent cannibalism is when a human is killed with the intent of cannibalism. Non-consensual violent cannibalism is usually seen as murder, a clearly unethical act. Though much less common, there are also instances of consensual cannibalism. The most well-known case of consensual cannibalism occurred in Germany when Bernd Brandes gave permission for Armin Meiwes to kill and eat him.[5]

Corpse interference cannibalism is very similar to passive cannibalism because the person being consumed is already dead. The famous example of the Donner Party is an example of non-consensual corpse interference cannibalism because the cannibals were eating members of the party who had already been killed because of the harsh weather and lack of supplies.[5] Corpse interference can also be consensual if a person gives consent before they die, usually in a living will..[5]

The third and final type of cannibalism Wilburn describes is waste scenarios – having a part of a body removed for a reason other than the sole purpose of cannibalism. The body part being removed is usually for medical purposes in order to save an individual’s life. If the body part being removed is eaten by another human being, it can be either consensual or not depending on the donor’s wishes.[5]

Others see cannibalism itself (only in the sense of eating human meat) as completely ethical and support passive cannibalism. William Irvine says “I will argue that when it comes to develop an ethics of eating, the stomach all too often triumphs over the mind,” when explaining why he believes it is ethical to consume someone who has already passed away.[12] He defends his argument by using the analogy of raising babies on farms and fattening them up to eat them like we do with other animals. He points out that we all see this is unethical to do and asks why it is okay to do this to other animals when there is good human flesh available from deceased bodies.[12]

Milburn had a similar idea to this when talking about LGF (lab grown flesh). By practicing this, no harm is done to either animals or people.[5] He states “we have a dearth of convincing rational arguments against cannibalism in-and-of-itself. Though we have good moral reasons to object to typical instances of cannibalism, these do not extend to LGF cannibalism… we should allow our feelings of disgust to give way to good ethical reasoning.”[5] Milburn argues that by eating LGF, there are no unethical circumstances or violence surrounding animals or people.[5]

Lab grown flesh is seen as alternative way of obtaining meat.

For those who practice cannibalism as a part of their culture, both historic and religious components come into play. B. Beau states “Men have always eaten one another; they will continue to do so in the future as they have in the past.”[2] As someone who participates in this practice himself, he points out that this is a tradition that is not an accident, people see it as a law created by the gods. He argues that not only is cannibalism ethical, it is beneficial to society. Because the old and sick are being eaten, it makes the population stronger as a whole and keeps the population at a level that can be sustained by the available supplies. Eating others after a war is also seen as a type of natural selection because those who do survive the war are “truly worth to live and perpetuate themselves.”[2]

Overall, there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not the consumption of one human by another is ethical. While many argue that it is not, there are arguments that support it based on the situation and type of cannibalism, especially when it comes to religious/ritualistic cannibalism.

Anthropologist tends to use subcategories of exocannibalism and endocannibalism when focusing on religious/ritual cannibalism. Exocannibalism refers to the consumption of members from a culturally established outside group and endocannibalism to refer to the consumption of members of one’s own group.[12] Exocannibalism is normally affiliated with the purpose of striking fear in the enemy as well as to engross the spirit of the enemy and involves killing. Endocannibalism is often seen as displaying respect for the deceased and correlated with an effort to maintain the group’s identity. It’s related to burial ceremonies and sometimes called “mortuary cannibalism” or “compassionate cannibalism,” endocannibalism rarely involves killing.[12] For example, the Fore people of New Guinea justified their mortuary cannibalism with the belief that when they consumed the corpse, the spirit of the dead is being protected in the bodies of those who ate them.[11]

Women preparing the food that will also be used while cooking their loved ones.

When researchers made their way to the villages in New Guinea during the 1950s, they found out that among a tribe of about 11,000 people called the Fore, up to 200 people, a year was dying from an illness called kuru. Kuru means “shivering” or “trembling.” Once the symptoms set in, it was sudden death. First, those affected with kuru would have troubles with walking and that was seen as a sign that they were about to lose control over their muscles and limbs. They’d then lose control over their emotions, which is why some people called it the “laughing death.” Within a year, they wouldn’t be able to control their own bodily functions, feed themselves, or even be able to get up off the floor.[1] Many locals were assured that it was the result of sorcery. The disease primarily affected adult women and kids younger than eight years old which resulted in having almost no young women left in some villages.[4]

This drawing is showing a women cooking their loved one’s body parts.

After discovering out that Kuru was not a cause of genetic mutations, medical anthropologists Lindenbaum was convinced that it had something to do with eating dead bodies at funerals.[13] In many villages, when somebody passed away, they were cooked and then consumed because it was seen as an act of mourning and affection. As one Fore villager explained, “when burying the body, it would be set on a platform to be eaten by maggots and worms. So it’s a better idea for the body to be eaten by those who loved the dead instead of various insects and worms.”[14] With this being said, women were tasked with removing the brain, mixing it with ferns, and cooking it in tubes of bamboo. Women then fire-roasted the body parts and ate everything but the gallbladder.[15] Women were tasked with eating the deceased body parts because their bodies were thought to be competent in housing and controlling the malicious spirit that accompanies a dead body. “Women took on the position of devouring the dead body and providing it a safe place inside their own body — taming it, for a duration of time, during the dangerous time of mortuary ceremonies,” stated Lindenbaum.[13] However, women occasionally pass pieces of the feast to children and they always ate what their mothers gave them without question. Interestingly enough, it was discovered that once sons reached a certain age, the moved to live with all the men in another location and they were then told: “to not touch that stuff.”[11] Finally, after some influence from researchers and anthropologists, biologists finally came around to the idea that the kuru originated from eating dead people. The case was concluded after a group of biologists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health inserted an infected human brain matter into chimpanzees, and observed Kuru symptoms develop in the chimpanzees months later.[4] Kuru passes between people this way because it belongs to a category of diseases known as prion diseases.

Prion diseases are caused by malformed prion proteins found commonly in the brain. These deformed proteins can lead to brain and nerve damage, as well as other symptoms.[12] Transmissible prion diseases can be spread by the consumption of an infected person’s organs, especially the brain, as that is where the greatest concentration of prion proteins are found.[9] While prion diseases are rare, they have no known cure and they are always fatal.[12]

Perhaps the most well-known example of a widespread prion disease is the kuru epidemic in Papua New Guinea. In 1957, “when it was first investigated…it was found to be present in epidemic proportions, with approximately 1000 deaths…[between] 1957-1961.”[13] In Papua New Guinea, kuru was transmitted through “the local mortuary practice of consumption of the dead.”[13] Even though the practice was prohibited in the 1950s, the long incubation period of kuru led to deaths caused by the illness happening years after practices of endocannibalism (the consumption of the body of a deceased relative) were outlawed. Kuru’s incubation period range from “34 to 41 years,” or up to “39 to 56 years” in men.[4] Kuru was found more often in children and adult women than in adult men, with “60 percent of cases in adult females…two [percent] in adult males and the remainder in children and adolescents of both sexes.”[1] This distribution was caused by the mortuary customs of the people living in the area. When an individual died, their “whole body was eaten by female relatives and their children of both sexes. Adult males…rarely partook of the body and never ate the brain or other organs.”[13] Because the women and children consumed the bodies and organs of their relatives, they were put at a much greater risk for contracting kuru than those who did not.

Graph showing the age distribution of kuru deaths in Papua New Guinea.

While prion diseases are the most well-known result of cannibalism in humans, there is also concern about the possibility of spreading other types of diseases or parasites. Studies have found that cannibalism in animals “[reduces] the prevalence of parasites…by both directly killing parasites in infected victims and by reducing the number of susceptible hosts.”[11] In humans, “because cannibalism is no longer a regular feature of human populations, it is impossible to assess the degree to which [diseases other than kuru] may have had this as a transmission mode.”[1] However, it has been suggested that tapeworms or certain blood-borne infections could be aided by cannibalism, even if that is not their primary means of transmission [13].
Cannibalism occupies a unique place in the world. There are those who believe that the consumption of human flesh is unethical and unsafe, pointing to prion diseases such as kuru that can be spread by cannibalism. On the other hand, there are many places where cannibalism is practiced and is a celebrated part of a culture and lifestyle, such as the Fore people of Papua New Guinea or the Wari’ of the Amazon. Cannibalism is often sensationalized and misunderstood, but because of its importance to various cultures and groups, it should be studied much more thoroughly to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions.

Grace Karegeannes, Hannah Brown, Charlotte Grush



1. Alpers, Michael P. “The Epidemiology of Kuru: Monitoring the epidemic from its peak to its end.” The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363 (2008): 3707-3713.

2. Beau, B. “A Defense of Cannibalism.” International Conciliation, February 15, 1909.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Prion Diseases.”

4. Collinge, John, Jerome Whitfield, Edward McKintosh, John Beck, Simon Mead, Dafydd J. Thomas, and Michael P. Alpers. “Kuru in the 21st Century – an acquired human prion disease with very long incubation periods.” The Lancet 367 (2006): 2068-2074.

5. Haïk, Stéphane, and Jean-Philippe Brandel. “Infectious Prion Diseases in Humans: Cannibalism, Iatrogenicity, and Zoonoses.” Infection, Genetics and Evolution 26 (2014): 303-312.

6. Hansas, John. “From Cannibalism to Caesareans: Two Conceptions of Fundamental Rights.” Hein Online 89, no. 3 (1995).

7. Hobbs, Jill. E. “Canada, US-EU Beef Hormone Dispute.” Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, 2012, 1-8. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-6167-4_358-4.

8. Hurd, Paul. “Art or Science? A Controversy about the Evidence for Cannibalism.” Scientific Controversies: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives 9, no. 5 (2011): 199-211. doi:10.2307/1292853.

9. Irvine, William B. “Cannibalism, Vegetarianism, and Narcissism.” Between the Species: An Online Journal for the Study of Philosophy and Animals 5, no. 1 (1989). doi:10.15368/bts.1989v5n1.2.

10. Lindenbaum, Shirley. “Understanding Kuru: The Contribution of Anthropology and Medicine.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B:Biological Sciences (2008): 3715-720. Accessed April 7, 2019. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0072.

11. Mathews, Jason. “Kuru Sorcery: Disease and Danger in the New Guinea Highlands. Palo Alto.” CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. Cult Med Psychiatry (2017) 41 (1979): 1-2.

12. Milburn, Josh. “Chewing Over In Vitro Meat: Animal Ethics, Cannibalism and Social Progress.” Res Publica 22, no. 3 (August 2016): 249-65. doi:10.1007/s11158-016-9331-4.

13. Rudolf, Volker H.W., and Janis Antonovics. “Disease Transmission by Cannibalism: Rare Event or Common Occurrence?” The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274, no. 1614 (2007): 1205-210.

14. Van Allen, Benjamin G., Forrest P. Dillemuth, Andrew J. Flick, Matthew J. Faldyn, David R. Clark, Volker H.W. Rudolf, and Bret D Elderd. “Cannibalism and Infectious Disease: Friends or Foes?” The American Naturalist 190, no. 3 (2017): 299-312.

15. Zigas, Vincent. 1990. Laughing Death : The Untold Story of Kuru. Clifton, N.J.: Humana Press.

Universal and Cross-Cultural Models of Grief

After the loss of a loved one, people often enter a period of bereavement filled with grief and mourning of the person they have just lost. Many people experience grief, but the scientific community is yet to make a universal model for grief. Grieve is experienced in different ways. In different cultures, the bereaved have different practices, ceremonies, and ways of coping with grief. Some forms of grief are controversial and others are seen as unhealthy. There is still much more to be known about grief. As research has been done on the topic, they have found more about how grief is similar and different between people. We argue that grief, although experienced in similar patterns, is not able to be put into a universal model. One’s experience of grief is unique to them and is influenced by many factors. Making a universal model for death is not what is needed in further research of this topic.

People experiencing bereavement often experience some form of emotional symptoms and physical symptoms including increased irritability, numbness, bitterness, detachment, preoccupation with loss, inability to show or experience joy, digestive problems, fatigue, headaches, chest pain, and sore muscles during their period of grief.[1] This raises the question, is there physical evidence of grief in the body?

Saavedra Pérez et al. showed that there may be a change in cognitive function during grief. However, they used a small sample of people that they classify as experiencing complicated grief (now classified as Prolonged Grief Disorder in the dsm-5). He studied how people experiencing “complicated grief” performed on cognitive testing (Mini-Mental State Examination, Letter–Digit Substitution Test, Stroop Test, Word Fluency Task, word learning test – immediate and delayed recall) while looking at total brain volume. His results showed that when people experience “complicated grief” they have lower cognitive ability and smaller overall brain volume.[2]

Other researchers including Peter Freed, Ted Yanagihara, Joy Hirsch, and John Mann have looked to see if there is a short term change in neural pathways to explain some symptoms of grief experienced. They had 20 recently bereaved subjects rate the amount of interfering thoughts related to their deceased loved one versus their ability to avoid those thoughts. During the experiment, subjects completed an Emotional Stroop (ES) task that contained words relating to the deceased and control words. The team of experimenters measured reaction time and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The second part of the experiment consisted of subjects visualizing the death of the deceased and rating the emotions elicited. Results of the study showed that there was an attentional bias toward words pertaining to the deceased that correlated with an increase in activity in the amygdala, insula, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (FLPFC). The increase in brain activity in these regions corresponds with the sadness intensity, a double dissociation between grief style, intrusiveness, avoidance, and lower ability to complete tasks.[3]

Since there is some evidence to indicate that grief is in part a biological function, some might look to doctors as experts on what grief is and how to manage grief. However, Margaret Stroebe Henk Schut, and Kathrin Boerner criticize physicians aiding grieving patients and their use of the stages of grief model. They draw attention to the intent of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model which was for the terminally ill. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s was adapted from Bowlby and Parkes’ theory which consisted of 4 stages of grief.

5 stages of grief model expanded [4]

Ross adapted this model to fit what she was seeing in her work with terminally ill patients in their process to cope with their own death. Somehow people accepted this model as a universal model for grief. Physicians explain grief as if it has time limits and universal patterns through the scope of this model.[5]The Cleveland Clinic even has a manual that is supposed to be a resource guide for children’s grief.[6] However, as Maciejewski et al. argue many people do not experience grief in the way Ross describes in her model. If they experience some form of these stages, they often do not present similarly among people and they are rarely chronologically similar.[7]As physicians push this model, it makes bereaving people more likely to feel that they are grieving incorrectly. This also opens up the possibility for the bereaved to think their grief may be abnormal. Because of their unwarranted concern, people out of the scope of Ross’s model may more likely be misdiagnosed with Prolonged Grief Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder.

The DSM was updated and removed the exclusion of people grieving from being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. The change has raised the concerns of many researchers and clinicians in the field. The consensus among many in the field including Richard A. Friedman is that it is important that people that meet the criteria for MDD are treated and should not be excluded if they are experiencing grief.[8]However, moving forward the definition of grief and knowing more about the subject will be important as clinicians try to distinguish between symptoms of grief and depression. It will also be crucial for more studies to collect more diverse samples to get a greater understanding of grief in different cultures as well as learning more about various cultural practices on a broader scale.

As mourning practices and reactions to grief are increasingly researched in the scholarly world, these studies become increasingly aware of the inherent ethnocentrism in believing certain mourning and grieving practices are universal. As a response, more and more interest is being poured into the cross-cultural perspective that compiles accounts of different cultures and analyzes the universal patterns in human mourning and grieving. [9] An interesting subfield is in the study of the transformation of cultural norms and expectations that go along with mourning and grieving practices.

Within the U.S. itself there is already a melting pot of cultures from the diverse amount of ethnic and cultural groups residing in the country. This serves as a unique cultural context for these different groups to take in and transform Western mourning practices along with interaction with their own.This cultural appropriation serves as a way for residents to blend their own cultural ways of mourning and expressions of grief with the traditional Western ways that surround them. For example, when third or fourth generation assimilated ethnic groups like Jews or Italians that choose to identify as their ethnic group after bereavement. [10]

Another example of blending cultures is the cultural context that surrounds digital mourning practices. This includes clicking the ‘Like’ button when somebody posts in honor of a recent death and replying with positive messages about the person who died. Because of the rise of mediatization, specifically emotions, social media has become a place where friends and family can share recent deaths and mourn the social death of the person.[11]Anna J.M. Wagner points out the cultural norms and expectations for digital mourning practices, with an emphasis on the forms of mourning expression and reactions to such expressions on social media.[12]Social media, in turn, has become a digital space for mourning and grief.

A Facebook post of a wife announcing her husband’s death. Words such as “legacy” and “always” emphasize the prolonging of the husband’s social death, past his biological death. [13]

Despite the amount of groups and cultures invested in adopting other cultures and their mourning and grieving practices, there are many cultures that are relatively unbothered and choose to stay true to their roots. In Japanese culture for example, there is an emphasis of death being understood as a natural process and norm of respecting the bodies of the dead and by undergoing Buddhist practices.[14]

In investigating mourning and grieving practices using the cross cultural approach, a question that naturally rises is if there are “good” grief and “bad” grief, and what are the consequences of such definitions? Using the cross-cultural approach is challenging the inherent ethnocentrism present by only focusing on Western practices of bereavement. However, using this approach requires judging other cultures and discriminating what is “universal.”

The ethnocentrism in believing Western mourning practices are common throughout the world poses detrimental implications for medical practitioners and their patients. Medical practitioners that want to guide patients and loved ones through the mourning process should be aware of non-Western practices, as these can cause communication issues when applying Western models of grief and mourning.

Grieving takes many forms. Psychologist Ralph Rayback writes that grief “ can manifest itself in the form… of physical suffering, and we may experience anything from anger to denial…to despair.” [15]These grief stages have ethical consequences. The ethics of grief depend on a few factors: (1) one’s culture and how it views grief, whether it be as a healthy process or a sign of weakness (2) how you grieve and whether you commit unethical acts as a result of your grief (3) how grief affects others in the community. These factors make it difficult to prescribe a one size fits all view on the ethics of grief. Seemingly, no one has objectivity in the matter. In R. Bargo’s book The Ethics of Mourning, he writes “much of the limit placed upon mourning as an ethical act comes from those who stand outside of its perspective.” [16] What he means is that we cannot judge an act of grieving as ethical or unethical because of our limits in perspective. In my section, I will focus on the grieving process in the United States and contrasting it with Ilongot tribe in the Philippines and see if there are ethical dilemmas on the problem of grieving and propose that there is no universal answer for the ethics of grief.

There’s no universal answer on whether grieving is ethical because it brings up the question of who gets grieved and who does not. The United States culture of grief is ethically gray on grief. John Chuckman, a writer for Counterpunch, puts it as, “Death in America does not come easily…unless you are homeless or live on an Indian reservation or in one of the nation’s vast urban ghettos.” [17]This quote cleverly brings up the conundrum we face in the United States of grieving the death of those who the United States exemplifies, but we look the other way when oppressed people such as immigrants or poor people die.

A woman grieving at a traditional US military funeral. [18]
A practical example is the death of a member of the military. In the United States, we throw elaborate funerals for those who are killed in action, but when the US military kills a civilian, we look the other way. While we do treat the privileged with compassion and care, we ignore those who are not as valuable to our society. The act of grieving those who are close to us while ignoring the deaths of the oppressed appear to be unethical. Ethics of care states that beneficence and caring for relationships is imperative for human lives, but the US approach to grieving is ethically gray and does not follow this.

There are a variety of cross cultural grief rituals, and some would be considered unethical according to western moral standards, and the United States is not morally neutral in their process of grief. An example of a grieving process the west would deem unethical is the headhunting of the Ilongot tribe in the Philippines. Headhunting is the ritual of decapitating those who they kill. When members of the Ilongot tribe lose a loved one, they will go headhunting and kill other men as a way to process their rage, sadness, and anger. Anthropologist Renato Rosaldo lived with the tribe to understand their process of grief. At first he was dumbfounded by what seems such a heinous act, but as his time went on, he realized that as westerners, we cannot force other cultures to hold to our ethics on grief and death, and there is no universal consensus on the ethics of grief. He wrote, “This book argues that a sea change in cultural studies has eroded once-dominant conceptions of truth and objectivity. The truth of objectivism – absolute, universal, and timeless – has lost its monopoly status.” [19] Rosaldo found that no one can make a moral claim on another culture’s dealing with death in his time with the tribe, and that he had no objectivity over what his views on the ethics of grief were.

In conclusion, the ethics of grieving are morally gray. Not only for the United States and our process of selective grieving, but other cultures that commit what Western cultures would deem as unethical acts are also not in the right. Grieving will always be morally gray because grieving and many of the feelings that come from it are not logical, but they help humanity cope with loss and that should be enough. Dr. Randall Horton, a professor of medical humanities, writes about what all societies should agree on in regards to ethics of grief when he writes, “It is true that people grieve in their own way and their own time, but compassionate care, free from judgment, might help people reach acceptance of the reality of a world that often seems to lack moral order, fairness, and predictability.” [20]There is no one size fits all approach to grieving, and ethical questions come up no matter what culture one examines.

Even with the research from the scientific, cultural, and ethical angles compiled into this post, further research needs to be done in the field of mourning practices and reactions to grief to gain insight into how death affects the living, as well as the implications it poses for medical practitioners and patients.

In addition, when it comes to universal and cross-cultural models of grief there may not be a correct answer that will be able to generalize the majority population, as the vast amount of cultures provide many iterations of mourning and grieving practices. Furthermore, the act of grieving and mourning can be illogical and thus cast a fundamental moral gray ground onto models of grief.

Madelein Ngo

Jason Satterfield

Caroline Vincent

[1]”Grief Symptoms, Causes and Effects.” Psych Guides2019. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[2] Saavedra Pérez, M. Ikram, N, Direk. H. Prigerson et al. “Cognition, Structural Brain Changes and Complicated Grief. A Population-Based Study.” Psychological Medicine45, no. 7 (05, 2015): 1389-1399. doi: or

[3] Peter J. Freed, Ted K. Yanagihara, Joy Hirsch, and John Mann. “Neural Mechanisms of Grief Regulation.” Biological Psychiatry66, no. 1 (2009): 33-40. doi: or

[4] Stephen Leybourne.“Emotionally Sustainable Change: Two Frameworks to Assist with Transition. International Journal of Strategic Change Management 7, no. 1 (2016): 23 doi:10.1504/IJSCM.2016.10000308.

[5] Margaret Stroebe, Henk Schut, and Kathrin Boerner. “Cautioning Health-Care Professionals.” OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying74, no. 4 (2017): 455-73. doi:10.1177/0030222817691870.

[6] “Understanding Death, Grief & Mourning.” Cleveland Clinic2008. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[7] Paul K. Maciejewski, Baohui Zhang, and Susan D. Block. “An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief.” Jama297, no. 7 (2007): 716-23. doi:10.1001/jama.297.20.2200.

[8] Richard A. Friedman. “Grief, Depression, and the DSM-5.” The New England Journal of Medicine366, no. 20 (2012): 1855-1857. doi:

[9] Dennis Klass, “Developing a Cross-Cultural Model of Grief: The State of the Field.”OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying 39, no. 3 (November 1, 1999): 155. doi:10.2190/bdtx-cye0-hl3u-nqqw.

[10] Maurice Eisenbruch, “Cross-Cultural Aspects of Bereavement. II: Ethnic and Cultural Variations in the Development of Bereavement Practices.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 8, no. 4 (December 1984): 325. doi:10.1007/bf00114661.

[11] Korina Giaxoglou, and Katrin Döveling. “Mediatization of Emotion on Social Media: Forms and Norms in Digital Mourning Practices.” Social Media Society 4, no. 1 (January 25, 2018):1. doi:10.1177/2056305117744393.

[12] Anna J. M. Wagner, “Do Not Click “Like” When Somebody Has Died: The Role of Norms for Mourning Practices in Social Media.” Social Media Society 4, no. 1 (January 25, 2018):1. doi:10.1177/2056305117744392.

[13] Teresa Millhouse, “Rest now my beloved. I love you more forever’: Wife of army trooper who died aged 36 from dementia caused by roadside bomb blast in Iraq posts loving tribute as hero is laid to rest,” Daily,  (September 4, 2015).

[14] Margaret Lock, “Contesting the Natural in Japan: Moral Dilemmas and Technologies of Dying.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 19, no. 1 (March 19, 1995): 18. doi:10.1007/bf01388247.

[15] Ralph Rayback, “The Ways We Grieve.” Psychology Today. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[16] Spargo, R. “The Ethics of Mourning.” The Ethics of Mourning | Johns Hopkins University Press Books. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[17] Chuckman, J. “America’s Culture of Grief and Dying.” Counter Punch. Accessed April 7, 2019.

[18] M, Mahaskey. Army 1st Lt. Matthew Greene comforts his mother, Dr. Susan Myers, as they prepare to bury Maj. Gen. Harold Greene at Arlington National Cemetery.,  2014. Politico, Arlington National Cemetery. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[19] Mario D. Zamora and Renato Rosaldo. “Ilongot Headhunting 1883-1974.” Anthropological Quarterly 54, no. 3 (1981): 172. doi:10.2307/3317898.

[20] Randal Horton,  “The Ethics of Grief.” Ethics Beyond Compliance. April 06, 2015. Accessed April 07, 2019.

Differences, Arguments and Cross-cultural Viewpoints

What are the differences between Suicide and Euthanasia? What are the arguments for and against it? How do viewpoints differ cross-culturally?

Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are both contentious issues, with the heart of the argument lying at morality and legalization. The viewpoints mentioned below, for and against euthanasia, provide only a simple framework of the ethical concerns surrounding this topic. This post will not only delve deeper into the various types and differences of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, but will also take a look at how viewpoints differ cross-culturally.

Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia tend to overlap. There have been many issues that have followed the creation and legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. However, each of them also differs from the other. There are many different types of euthanasia and assisted-suicide and many different ways they can be administered. The traditional distinction states that it is passive whenever a physician allows a patient to die due to withholding or withdrawing their care. It is active whenever a physician administers lethal medicine, causing death to the patient. Voluntary euthanasia occurs whenever a person has euthanasia in their will as their desired course of treatment. However, involuntary occurs whenever a patient cannot make the decision for themselves and dies against their will. Physician-assisted suicide, however, a patient decides to end their own life with help from their physician. Active physician-assisted suicide occurs whenever the physician performs the act that leads to the death of the patient. In passive physician-assisted suicide, the physician provides the patient with the means of dying and the patient performs the act. As of right now, involuntary euthanasia is not legal and many medical practices have faced many controversies because of the expansion of voluntary active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.[1]

Many different countries have different medical and ethical opinions as well. The Belgian Integral Palliative Care Act states that high-quality palliative care, open to the act of advancing death, when suffering cannot be relieved and proves intolerable to the desolate dying patient. This ensures that patients will be treated as best as they should during their death. This act helps to set the medical standards of the care of people experiencing life-limiting illnesses and advancing death if they wish to do so. It is because of this that medical students are taught to be bright and sensitive and are obliged to provide their patients with autonomy. [2] In 2000, euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands and in 2002, Belgium. In the United States, the state of Oregon legalized physician assisted suicide in 1997. Both of these countries are still continuing to develop their ideas about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. To address these issues, they asked questions at polls so they could be better prepared to address them.[3] In Britain, the medical origin of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia was in 1901. Harry Haiselden was the first physician to publicly support assisted suicide as well as involuntary euthanasia. The increase in secularism and acceptance of Darwinism each allowed this idea to become more acceptable. However, still today, this is a very controversial topic. Since the Scientific Revolution, intellectuals have been testing the limits of science. Often, this causes scientists to push borders of the natural world without considering other spheres of knowledge. Earlier, the definition of euthanasia was providing pain relief to dying patients, but quickly transitioned to the hastening of death. It was even favored to kill people with disabilities. This happened in Germany in 1870 when Ernst Haeckel felt as if weak and sick people should not be able to reproduce. He believed this because people that were weak and sick caused a decreased chance in survival and inhibits adaptation. In America, this debate took off in 1915 Chicago. A case of a baby that who was severely deformed at birth was publicized. The family was talked out of a life-saving surgery and the baby died 5 days later. Harry Haiselden used this as his platform for passive euthanasia. [4] Whenever euthanasia and assisted suicide were introduced, they were only used for terminally ill patients. However, it was argued that non-terminally ill patients suffered just as bad and, in some cases, worse than patients that were terminally ill. They also suffered longer because their illness did not kill them, even if it was debilitating. In each act that has been passed in Oregon, California, and Washington, terminal diseases are defined as diseases that are incurable and irreversible, have been medically confirmed, and will cause death within six months. [1]

Right now, psychology is quickly becoming a field in which the effects of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are being evaluated. In Belgium and the Netherlands, psychiatric conditions that are resistant to treatment can be treated with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The criteria include that the physician is convinced that the request is voluntary as well as well-thought out, the patient is currently suffering to an unbearable extent with no signs of improvement, and no other alternatives can be offered to relieve their symptoms. An independent physician must also be consulted and medical care and attention must be performed as the act is occurring. This is becoming increasingly popular because psychiatrists have begun arguing that suffering caused by psychiatric illnesses can be just as intense as suffering that comes with terminal illnesses. [5]

Euthanasia, sometimes referred to as a good death from the Greek meaning, and assisted suicide suggest a difference in the degree to which the doctor is involved. Physician assisted suicide (PAS) includes making lethal means available to the patient to be used at the time of the patient’s choosing, whereas euthanasia includes the physician taking the active role to carry out the patients request by delivering the lethal substance to the patient directly.[6]Both are considered the most controversial end of life decisions, causing much cultural debate on the fundamental issues of humanism.  PAS and euthanasia are legalized in four Western countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Switzerland; one South American country: Columbia; and in two North American countries: Canada and the United States, in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.  With the increase in population, the cases for chronic disease increases, as well, causing an increase in the number of PAS and euthanasia cases each year and an increase in the number of countries that legalize PAS and euthanasia.  Many countries, including Brazil and the United Kingdom, have not yet legalized PAS and euthanasia but the debate is timely to due this increase in chronic disease with the increase of population as a whole.[7] Not only do countries not want to legalize euthanasia and PAS because of the increase of chronic disease, but also because of religious beliefs within cultures.  Cross-culturally, PAS and euthanasia are both viewed as the same type of murder despite the many differences that they have.[8]


In this video, a Swiss lesbian theorist Michèle Causse who was suffering from a non-lethal bone disease chose to have assisted suicide. A medicine is given to her in liquid form and she drinks it. This is legal in Switzerland and two people are there with her and she is able to talk and eat as she is waiting for the medicine to activate.


Even though Euthanasia is banned in Denmark, it is still a contested topic. This film not only presents various ethical perspectives towards euthanasia, but gives the religious, philosophical and scientific evidence for individuals to have those viewpoints.

Both in the Eastern world and the Western world, religious beliefs, such as Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism, figure heavily into the acceptance of physician assisted suicide leading many people to believe that “only God should decide the time of death.”[9]Studies have shown that Muslims are most strongly opposed to euthanasia and PAS, followed by Catholics, Protestants, and those that have no religious affiliation, proving religion as a strong predictor of opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Along with patient beliefs, the religious beliefs of healthcare workers also contribute significantly to their attitudes regarding PAS and euthanasia.  While ending the life of one suffering from a terminal illness, it is likely that this is becoming increasingly culturally sanctioned, with both physicians and patients struggle with cultural taboos on physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, and whether it is considered murder. In the United States, the general public seems to prefer that physicians perform the act, whereas physicians prefer the patient to do it, meaning that those that are involved with PAS and euthanasia are very reluctant to get involved and are sure that they are terminally ill and certain of this decision. [10]The result of heavy religious views in culture leads to the disappearance of distinct differences between the Western and Eastern parts of the world.[11]

An image taken by author and pastor, Paul Holt, who believes that all people should have the right to assisted suicide and to be able to determine when they would like to die. [12]
Intersect Project shows a video dealing with how Christians should think about the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia in an interview with Erik Clary. [13]

The topics of euthanasia and assisted suicide are ones that are wrapped with much ethical discussion and debate. Advocates of euthanasia believe that the right to die is personal choice and that one whom is suffering should not have to be kept alive against the individual’s will. [14]On the other hand, euthanasia and PAS can be perceived to abuse autonomy and human rights. Kant and Mill [15]renowned philosophers, believe that the principle of autonomy prohibits the intentional ending of the conditions needed for autonomy—this includes ending one’s life. Additionally, it has been argued that euthanasia is seldom autonomous and sincerely a personal choice because terminally ill patients may not have the ability to express their rational mind.[16]

Individual’s against suicide may view suicide as an easy-way out for doctors because it could render the doctor as carefree and as one that does not want to address the patient’s’ problems. In terms of legalization, society often sees doctors as “healers” so when initiating suicide comes into play, there is controversy.  However, the caveat to this belief would be that a physician should heal until death is imminent then shift to healing to relieving suffering—in accordance to the patient’s wishes. Many view PAS and euthanasia as beneficent: ending one’s life is better than suffering unbearably.[17] Those against specifically active euthanasia and physician assisted suicide also may believe that it undermines the doctor-patient relationship by destroying trust built between the two. The doctor’s role in administering euthanasia “would compromise the objectives of the medical profession” 16—and thus diminish trust and confidence between the doctor and patient. : James Rachels, a philosopher, who published one of the most salient articles on the euthanasia debate in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Based on a utilitarian argument by James Rachel, there is no difference between killing and letting die: this fundamentally makes active and passive euthanasia morally equivalent. Rachel also argues that active euthanasia is more humane than passive euthanasia due to active euthanasia’s “quick and painless” lethal injection. On the contrary, passive euthanasia can result in a “relatively slow and painful death.”[18]

Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are both very controversial topics that cause a lot of debate in many countries throughout the world. In societies around the world today, these topics have seemed to overlap and have become to greatly correlate with one other. It is within these certain societies that specific choices are made, in terms of these measures, either enabling certain patients to access to them or denying their access. These decisions are made based upon ethical, cultural, religious, or even scientific viewpoints of the leaders in these countries.


Prinal Patel, Breah Walker, Lindsey Farr




[1] Varelius, Jukka. “Active and Passive Physician-Assisted Dying and the Terminal Disease Requirement”. Bioethics, 30(9), 2016. pp 663-671. Accessed April 1, 2019.

[2] Boisvert, Marcel. “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia”. The Permanente Journal, 16(2),(2012). pp 75-76. Accessed April 1, 2019.

[3]  Marcoux, Isabelle, Brian L. Mishara, and Claire Durand. 2007. “Confusion between Euthanasia and Other End-of-Life Decisions: Influences on Public Opinion Poll Results.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 98 (3), 2007. pp 235-239.

[4] Weikart, Richard. “Does Science Sanction Euthanasia or Physician- Assisted Suicide?”. Human Life Review. 2016. Accessed April 1, 2019.

[5] Steinbock, Bonnie. “Physician-Assisted Death and Severe, Treatment-Resistant Depression”. Hastings Center Report, 47(5), 2017. pp 30-42. Accessed April 1, 2019.

[6] Math, Suresh Bada, and Santosh K. Chaturvedi. “Euthanasia: Right to Life vs Right to Die.” The Indian Journal of Medical Research. December 2012. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[7] Castro, Mariana Parreiras Reis, Antunes, Guilherme Cafure, et al. June 13,2016. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[8] Chowdhury, Rezawana. Summer 1012. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[9] Pierre, Joseph M. “Culturally Sanctioned Suicide: Euthanasia, Seppuku, and Terrorist Martyrdom.” World Journal of Psychiatry. March 22, 2015. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[10] Pierre, Joseph M. World Journal of Psychiatry.

[11] Nortje, Nico. “Cultural Perspective on Euthanasia.” Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. January 23, 2013. Accessed March 31, 2019.

[12] Holt, Paul. “The Culture of Death Expands to Suicide.” Paul Holt Ministries. February 16th. Accessed March 24, 2019.

[13] Clary, Erik. “Physician Assisted Suicide: What Christians Need to Know.” Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary. December 1, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2019.

[14] Irwin, Michael. “Euthanasia: The Right to Die Should Be a Matter of Personal Choice.” August 19, 2013.

[15] Gwyther, Elizabeth, and Debbie Norval. “Ethical Decisions in End-of-Life Care.” CME 21, no. 5 (May 2003): 267-72.

[16] Goldman, Lee, and Andrew Schafer. “Bioethics in the Practice of Medicine.” In Goldman’s Cecil Medicine, 4-9. 23rd ed. USA.

[17] Patterson, Rachael, and Katrina George. “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: A Liberal Approach versus the Traditional Moral View.” J Law Med 12, no. 4 (May 2005): 494-510.

[18] Rachels, James. “Active and Passive Euthanasia.” New England Journal of Medicine 292, no. 2 (January 9, 1975): 78-80.

Criminal Evidence in Gun-Related Homicides

The United States has a long history of guns, tracing back to before the American Revolution. They were used by freemen in British North America for protection against “the Native Americans, the French, and others” [[1]]. Back then they were very difficult to use, but in 1840, the Colt revolver became popular, because it was more efficient, cheaper, and more easily concealed. Along with the increase in Colt revolvers came “an increase in homicide rates” [[2]]. The culture around guns has made the United States the country with “the highest rate of gun homicide in the industrialized world. In 2009, there were 13,636 murders by weapons (out of 15,241 total murders) in the United States. Of these murders, 9,146 were committed with firearms, handguns being the weapon of choice” [[3]]. This data further proves that guns are ingrained in American society, and used to harm others.  The second amendment in the Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms, is one of the most important rights to most Americans because guns are deeply rooted in our culture.


 The table above shows the estimated percentage of American Gun Presence in households, comparing pre-industrialization and post-industrialization [[4]].


Today, the United States ranks number one in firearm ownership per capita and we dominate in firearm‐related death on a global scale [[5]]. Many believe that because of the high rates of homicides and mass shootings that have been prevalent in recent years, there should be stricter gun laws. There has been an ongoing debate about gun control, where “proponents of stricter gun control argue that guns are responsible for 32,000 gun‐related deaths each year and that the introduction of stricter gun control laws would reduce this death toll” [[6]] On the other hand, gun rights advocates argue “that the general availability of guns reduces homicide rates, due to deterrence and because guns are effective means of self‐defense” [[7]]. The supporters of gun rights believe that guns will help prevent more homicide, but research shows that gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates [[8]], indicating that the more guns available to the public, the more homicides will occur. The group of people against gun control have no validity to their argument but demonstrate that their beliefs and cultural values are strong enough to fight for gun rights.

There is a violent trend which traces back over centuries involving the use and misuse of firearms, so it should come as no surprise that American forensics have developed and utilized specific techniques and resources to deal with gun-related homicides. Many of these techniques rely heavily on technology and are gaining popularity as gun-related homicides continue to increase. One example of the technology being used in gun-related homicides includes the use of 3D modeling software to help forensic scientists accurately reconstruct a postmortem and skeletonized skull with a bullet wound. This technology is useful in cases of “no further evaluable brain,” and can aid forensic scientists in documenting the path of the bullet and therefore identify which brain structures were damaged and the ability of action in those parts of the brain are associated with the damage.

A study that used postmortem 3D reconstruction of gunshot wounds to the skull, found that concordance rates between the reconstructed bullet trajectory and the autopsy reports were “excellent” for over half of the sample [[9]]. The results produced by the study are useful in depicting the accuracy of 3D reconstruction of the skull and therefore the bullet trajectory as it compares to the actual autopsy reports for each of the cases. This technique is useful in cases of advanced decaying and skeletonizing of the victim’s’ body because it can assist in the assessment of which parts of the brain were destroyed prior to death and can help in determining the trajectory of the bullet.

Another type of technology used to assess gun-related homicides is the 3D Ballistic Trajectory Model, used primarily to determine the trajectory of the bullet, in cases with conflicting evidence and testimony. In this form of 3D modeling, forensic scientists use the heights of the victim and the shooter as well as the postmortem position of the victim, bullet entry and exit, and lodgment points, to simulate a 3D model of the crime scene. This model would include the entire scene – down to the placement of buildings, sidewalks, and physical evidence. This form of modeling may also include the point of view of any eyewitnesses in order to assess their visibility and orientation at the time of the incident.

Using the 3D Ballistic Trajectory model, forensic scientists can manipulate the body posture of both the shooter and the victim in an attempt to align the trajectory of the bullet path with the actual documented entry point. This helps forensic scientists provide clarity on a situation in which there may be several conflicting testimonies. For example, one study using this technique in a case in which a cop fatally shot a man, found that the cop’s description of the events that occurred was actually determined impossible after 3D modeling the bullet path. This helped in bringing justice to the victim [[10]].

However, as forensic technology advances and is continuously incorporated into homicide cases, firearms themselves are advancing in power, speed, and even ammunition composition. The advances in gun technology can further complicate a forensic analysis of a gun-related homicide. Previously, gunshot residue (GSR) was easily analyzed using electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy, which provides information regarding particle composition and primer residue. This was used to help guide a forensic scientist towards identifying the gun and the ammunition type used by the shooter. However, now, lead-free and non-toxic ammunition is available, which leaves a different kind of GSR called “Organic” GSR and this is much more difficult to pick up using energy dispersive spectroscopy techniques.

Luckily, new forms of identification have been adopted by forensic scientists including gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, and infrared spectroscopy. Using infrared spectroscopy, luminescent chemicals in GSR can be detected under UV radiation. One study involving the accuracy of infrared spectroscopy found that after setting up a “crime scene” involving a drive-by shooting, luminescent GSR could be detected in the car, in the nostrils and on the forehead of the shooter, and up to 9.4m from where the bullet left the gun. This study also found that luminescent GSR could be picked up on the shooter’s hands for up to 9 hours after the crime had been committed, considering hand-washing [[11]].

The accuracy of testing utilizing the analysis of GSR to determine shooting distance and powder identification is supported by other studies. A study using atomic force microscopy to analyze GSR particles found that the dispersion of particles had a correlation with the distance that the bullet traveled. This study also identified differences in the spectra of “pre-shot gun powder” from three different cartridges. The findings of this study may help forensic scientists identify suspects of homicides as this method can identify details such as the distance of the shot and the manufacturer of the bullet [[12]]. These findings help forensic scientists gather more information about the location of the shooter, the path of the bullet, and possible suspects in cases where the shooter may not have been seen or found, as these LGSR particles transfer onto other objects touched by the shooter.

These new technological findings greatly aid in the case of prosecution. Prosecutors have a moral obligation to ensure that justice arises, no matter the case. One way that the US has begun to use these new technological methods to place justice above all else is through gun courts. These are specialized courts that deal only with firearm related offenses. Now, it is very important to differentiate between juvenile and adult gun courts. Juvenile gun courts focus on providing intervention for young offenders involved with firearms. These are much more education-centric, intending to prevent future crimes by informing young offenders of the weighty consequences. Adult gun courts have slightly different goals. They aim to get violent offenders off the streets as quickly as possible and to dole out harsh sentences to these violent offenders [[13]]. By streamlining a specific type of case through a different route, the justice system intends to allow courts to focus only on firearms and move much more quickly than a regular court. Justice demands that violent offenders, especially ones associated with so dangerous a weapon as a firearm, be removed from the public immediately, so that they may not pose any greater threat to the public. The harsher sentences, as well, are perceived as deserved and a hopeful deterrent against further violent behavior involving firearms. With a promising prosecution rate of nearly 80% for all federal and state arrests made related to guns [[14]], it seems these gun courts are doing something of a good job. Therefore, gun courts are fairly accepted as a method of prosecution.

However, adult gun courts do raise a question of fairness. Is it true justice to divide offenders based primarily on their weapon of choice? By putting firearm-related cases in one division, the court itself creates a bias that is then used to give these cases harsher outcomes. The harsher outcomes are actually an intended outcome of this system, which is also questionable. In the wake of stories about mass shootings and murder-suicides amongst families, it can be hard to question the current justice system because of the public views these acts as so heinous that whoever does them, must also receive a heinous punishment. The entire justice system revolves around making sure that the punishment fits the crime. Gun courts make this system a little murky when they automatically assume that if the crime involves a gun, it is already worse than if it did not involve a gun. The justice system also often makes the mistake of using unfair racial profiling in its course of action against criminals. This unfair course of action only adds to the biased nature of gun courts and the US government in general. Statistics from the NAACP show that African Americans and Hispanics comprise only around 30% of the U.S. population, but make up more than 50% of the U.S. prison population [[15]]. African American males are also more likely to die by firearm-related homicide than another other demographics [[16]]. This means that African American males are at a much greater danger when it comes to guns and violence, as well as the danger that comes from the very justice system that generates such a strong racial bias.


 The graph above represents findings from an eight-year study conducted by researchers at McGill University and the University of California – Davis about Firearm-Related and Non-Firearm Related Homicides [[17]].

The justice system is not the only source of unfair racial profiling, gun culture in the United States also shows a strong correlation to racism. In a racial discrimination study, it was found that 63.10% of minorities experience racial discrimination compared to 29.61% of Whites” [[18]] and according to another source, “symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in US whites. The findings help explain US whites’ paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence US gun control policy debates and decisions” [[19]]. American culture is tied to racist and discriminatory acts through its past of slavery and other discriminatory laws. This culture still translates in today’s society and has an impact on the homicide rates in the US and therefore affects the proponents of gun control and gun rights advocates.

Another question involving the gun court system is whether or not it works. For juvenile gun courts, the question is even more difficult to answer. There are very few of them in operation and the outcomes of studies are not clear. Opponents of adult gun courts claim that they do achieve the main goals very well, expediting the process and providing harsh sentences. However, in the case of decreasing gun violence as a whole, these courts do not seem to make any progress towards that goal [[20]]. Ethically, another problem arises because if gun courts are not overall reducing the problem of firearm-related violence in America, should they even be in place? They take care of the immediate goal of short-term safer streets, but the harsher sentences don’t seem to be as deterring as they are meant to be.

The ethical issues involved in homicide as a whole, specifically gun-related incidents, extend much further than simply the perpetrator and the victim. A question of culpability arises, as there is an entire outer ring of actors involved in this act of violence, despite their absence during the actual act. There must be, of course, a murderer and a victim in every homicide. Some have multiple murders or multiple victims, but a very distinct line separates them. After the fact, law enforcement investigates and prosecutes the crime, following laws that the government had laid out. Now, ethically, law enforcement has a responsibility to ensure that justice prevails, just as much as the government must pass laws that will not allow murderers to escape justice.

Law enforcement and gun laws are vastly different when comparing the United States to other countries around the world. Often when compared to these countries, many conclude that Americans are seen as more aggressive or more violent “because it is in [America’s] nature to do so” [[21]]. U.S. Americans own nearly twice as many guns as the citizens of Yemen, the world number 2 in private gun ownership and more than twice the number of guns owned by the citizens of Switzerland, the number 3 in private gun ownership [[22]].


The table above shows a comparison between European and American Murder rates during the pre-industrialized era and the post-industrialized era [[24]].


In one study, Americans are also shown to own a significant amount more guns than Europeans, and therefore have higher murder rates, as seen in Table 2 [[23]]. It is seen to be part of U.S. culture for Americans to be violent or angry and violence is often tied to guns in America, especially when talking about homicide. “In 2005, 68% of homicides were committed by criminals armed with guns” [[25]]. The normalization of gun-related homicides permeates in media through movies, TV shows and video games. Many people have become so desensitized to the violence that once it transfers to real-life scenarios, there is significantly less impact. Because guns are so deeply rooted in American society, homicide is now an additional part of American culture. The extreme violence that is so prevalent in the media perpetuates the same violence that so many Americans face today. Despite forensic and legal efforts to achieve justice in the cases of homicide, there is still a strong presence of both firearms and violence in society.

Joanna Delgado

Megan Northrup

Alexa Baldwin


[1] Innis, Kim A. Mac. “Homicides, Gun.” In Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law, by Gregg Lee Carter. 2nd ed. ABC-CLIO, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Monkkonen, Eric. “Homicide: Explaining America’s Exceptionalism.” The American Historical Review 111, no. 1 (2006): 76-94. doi:10.1086/ahr.111.1.76.

[5] Lynch, Kellie R., and Dylan B. Jackson. “”People Will Bury Their Guns before They Surrender Them”: Implementing Domestic Violence Gun Control in Rural, Appalachian versus Urban Communities.” Rural Sociology. January 18, 2018. Accessed April 08, 2019.

[6] Stroebe, Wolfgang. “Firearm Availability and Violent Death: The Need for a Culture Change in Attitudes toward Guns.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. November 23, 2015. Accessed April 06, 2019.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Peschel, O., Szeimies, U., Vollmar, C., & Kirchhoff, S. 2013. Postmortem 3-D reconstruction of skull gunshot injuries. Forensic Science International (Online), 233(1), 45-50. doi:

[10] Galligan, Aisling A., Craig Fries, and Judy Melinek. 2017. Gunshot wound trajectory analysis using forensic animation to establish relative positions of shooter and victim. Forensic Science International (Online) 271, (Feb 01): e8-e13, (accessed April 1, 2019).

[11] Weber, I. T., Melo, A., Lucena, M., Consoli, E. F., Rodrigues, M. O., de Sá, G., . . . Alves, S. 2014. Use of luminescent gunshot residues markers in forensic context. Forensic Science International (Online), 244, 276-84. doi:

[12] Mou, Yongyan, Jyoti Lakadwar, and J. Wayne Rabalais. “Evaluation of Shooting Distance by AFM and FTIR/ATR Analysis of GSR.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, 2008. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2008.00854.x

[13] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Gun Court Literature Review.” Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. September 2010. Accessed March 2019.

[14] Southwick Jr., Lawrence. “Enforcement of Gun Control Laws.” In Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law, by Gregg Lee Carter. 2nd ed. ABC-CLIO, 2012.

[15] NAACP. “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. Accessed April 2019.

[16] Riddell, Corinne A., Sam Harper, Magdalena Cerdá, and Jay S. Kaufman. “Comparison of Rates of Firearm and Nonfirearm Homicide and Suicide in Black and White Non-Hispanic Men, by U.S. State.” Annals of Internal Medicine. May 15, 2018. Accessed March 2019.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Lee, Randy T., Amanda D. Perez, C. Malik Boykin, and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. “On the Prevalence of Racial Discrimination in the United States.” PLOS ONE. Accessed April 06, 2019.

[19] Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly. “Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites may Influence Policy Decisions.” PLoS One 8, no. 10 (10, 2013). doi:

[20] Yablon, Alex. “The Case for Gun Courts.” The Trace. September 24, 2015. Accessed April 2019.

[21] Lynch, Kellie R., and Dylan B. Jackson. “”People Will Bury Their Guns before They Surrender Them”: Implementing Domestic Violence Gun Control in Rural, Appalachian versus Urban Communities.” Rural Sociology. January 18, 2018. Accessed April 08, 2019.

[22] Stroebe, Wolfgang. “Firearm Availability and Violent Death: The Need for a Culture Change in Attitudes toward Guns.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. November 23, 2015. Accessed April 06, 2019.

[23]  Monkkonen, Eric. “Homicide: Explaining America’s Exceptionalism.” The American Historical Review 111, no. 1 (2006): 76-94. doi:10.1086/ahr.111.1.76.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Kovandzic, Tomislav, Mark E. Schaffer, and Gary Kleck. “Estimating the Causal Effect of Gun Prevalence on Homicide Rates: A Local Average Treatment Effect Approach.” SpringerLink. October 11, 2012. Accessed April 06, 2019.



Human Sacrifice – Mayan and Aztec

Capital Offense & Punishment: Example

Scientific Perspective

  • Mental Illness is a Common Malady Among Prisoners

    Mental health and other attributes of death row inmates

    With over 3,000 inmates on death row in the United States, it is disturbing to discover that most are male, of a racial minority, have not completed high school, had dysfunctional childhoods, have histories of substance abuse and/or dependence, show evidence of neurological and/or psychological disturbances, with a significant minority of the population showing “intellectual disability” and/or borderline “intellectual disability.”[1]  This site will explore what these factors suggest about varying aspects of being on death row, including which factors should be considered when someone is on trial for a capital offense, whether or not the defendant should have the right to legal representation, what sentencing may be appropriate, what prison conditions are justified for a person on death row and the mental health treatments which should be offered.  Additionally, this site will also examine the research limitations of these findings.

    What factors should be considered when someone stands trial for a capital offense?  The first factor which should be considered is whether the person is competent to stand trial as their own representative.  This is a significant issue because, currently, many jurisdictions which allow for the death penalty, do not believe that the person has a right to legal representation, and thus, do not allot resources to fund such a service.  Yet, research has found that the typical death row inmate did not finish high school, with the median highest educational attainment being the 11th grade.  This rate, incidentally, is only modestly lower than that observed in the general state prison population.  Even more concerning is the discovery that functional capacity is well below the years of schooling reported.  For example, in one study,[2] it was found that mean school attendance was at the 9.5 grade level, however, the mean educational achievement capabilities was only at the 5.6 grade level.  Additionally, while the average range of intellectual scores range from average to low average, there is a significant minority of the population who exhibit borderline “intellectual disability” and/or frank “intellectual disability.”[3] Thus, it could be reasonably argued that potential death row inmates are not competent to represent themselves in state proceedings.[4]

    Psychological Factors are Critical to Consider for Trial as well as for Sentencing

    Having said the above, the conclusions are limited by research limitations.  Firstly, there is a paucity of research which has looked into intellectual abilities of death row inmates.  Many such studies necessitate involved face-to-face interviews, and thus, only a limited number of these have been done; specifically, only 13 “clinical” studies of death row inmates have been done in the past 35 years. Additionally, measurement tools have been inconsistent, with some studies conducting the WAIS-R while other studies have included a brief mental status examination.  Finally, sampling bias is an issue; the majority of these studies were done in southern states and it is unclear if the results would differ if intellectual ability were reviewed nationwide.  [One example of a scientific perspective you could take is to point out the limitations of research which has been done on this topic.] [Another example of a scientific perspective you could take is to describe one research study in detail (e.g. intro, methods, results & discussion) and then to talk about its contributions as well as limitations.]

    One way of addressing the research limitations is to conduct a nationwide study, where death row inmates are equitably selected from all the jurisdictions in which the death penalty is accepted.  Additionally, the study should include prisoners of varying ages, races and years of education.  Finally, the same one to two measurement instruments should be used to assess intellectual ability for all participants.  [Yet another scientific perspective you could take is to point out another research study which could be done, explaining why such a study should be done.]

Cultural Perspective


A central cultural issue raised by capital punishment is how increasingly out of step the United States is on the issue of the death penalty when compared to the growing trend around the world to abolish it.  Until rather recently, nearly all countries applied the death penalty to punish traitors, political prisoners, prisoners, and others.  But since the Second World War, there has been an increasing trend that gained momentum in the 1990s towards an international consensus on the abolition of the death penalty.[5]  The debate over capital punishment in the United States is one that we hear in courts, state legislatures, and on national televised talk shows.  Capital punishment has generated similar questions around the world.  Does it effectively deter crime? If not, is it necessary to satisfy society’s desire for retribution against those who commit unspeakably violent crimes? Are murderers capable of redemption? Should states take the lives of their own citizens? Are current methods of execution humane? Is there too great a risk of executing the innocent?  Around the world, judges, human rights advocates, and ordinary citizens have argued over whether the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

While a growing number of nations has decided to do away with capital punishment, the United States has thus far rejected appeals to abolish the death penalty or adopt a moratorium.  In 2016, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for a worldwide “moratorium on the use of the death penalty.”   The United States cast one of the 40 votes against the resolution, while 117 countries voted in favor.  Countries that apply the death penalty, including the US, claim they are abiding by international law, and reject the notion that it violates human rights.[6]

Global perspectives on corporal punishment therefore enable us to see the widening gap between the US and a growing international consensus to abolish the death penalty.  This gap grows with each passing year.  In June 2007, Rwanda abolished the death penalty, becoming the one hundredth country to do so as a legal matter.  An additional 29 countries are deemed to be “abolitionist” in practice since they have either announced their intention to abolish the death penalty or have refrained from carrying out executions for at least ten years.  As a result, there are now at least 129 nations that are either de facto or de jure abolitionist.  In Asia, where many nations have long insisted that the death penalty is an appropriate and necessary sanction, there are signs of change. The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006, and the national bar associations of Malaysia and Japan have called for a moratorium on executions.  The vast majority of the world’s executions are carried out by eight nations: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, and the United States.[7]

Against the backdrop of this global trend in which the US seems increasingly out of step, it is commonly asserted that a strong majority of Americans support the death penalty.  This assertion ostensibly endorses the notion that the use and legality of capital punishment reflects the “will of the people.”   Yet, such generalizations about American support for capital punishment obscure an important empirical reality: that support for the death penalty for individuals convicted of murder is much lower than it was in the 1990s.  Today, 54% of Americans favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed.   In 2000, the percentage of supporting Americans was in upwards of 70%.[8]  The assertion that most Americans support the death penalty also masks another important, if less reported, trend of concern to cultural analyses: namely, that there is a clear racial divide in public support for the death penalty.  Research shows that African Americans oppose capital punishment at significantly greater rates than Whites.[9]  This divide has persisted for decades and remains substantively and significantly significant, even when correlates for death penalty attitudes are controlled for.[10]

Accounting for the complex reasons behind the role that race plays in shaping public support for the death penalty requires grappling with how the death penalty in the US is historically and inextricably linked to race.  Scholars, activists, and legal officials have widely recognized the connection between race and the killings of African Americans, in particular through the death penalty, lynching, and police violence.[11],[12],[13]  This connection has a long and deep history.  Political scientists Timothy Kaufman-Osborn has traced how the death penalty found its legal origins in courtrooms that tried southern lynchings of suspected black criminals.  Courts in the south began to sentence defendants to death to preempt angry mobs that were certain to try to achieve such results unlawfully if the courts did not do so.[14]   The persistent racial divide in public support for capital punishment therefore demands accounting for the legacies of racial violence in the United States.

Ethical Perspective

Whether it is morally acceptable for the state to execute people is an important moral issue for political debate. Nine U.S. states have repealed the death penalty since 2006, most recently in 2018 when conservative Nebraska did so over the veto of its governor. How the State executes condemned prisoners raises other key moral problems that have led to litigation, changing protocols, and a moratorium on the death penalty in several states. Execution by guillotine and the firing squad causes instant death but is bloody. In attempts to provide more humane, reliable, and scientific methods of killing, hanging was replaced by electrocution, and more recently by lethal injection – the standard in the United States since the 1980s.[15]

Two central ethical issues raised by lethal injection are first, the effectiveness of the protocol for obtaining and administering drugs intended to kill; and, second, how the medicalization of the death penalty and the role of physician participation creates a conflict between law and medicine in its application.

The standard protocol for execution was developed in Oklahoma in 1977 by Jay Chapman and involves the sequential injection of three drugs: first, an anesthetic (sodium thiopental until 2009) that renders the prisoner unconscious; second, a paralytic agent (pancuronium) that prevents muscular responses to pain; and third, potassium chloride that induces cardiac arrest.[16] A key problem was that “the method was never subjected to medical and scientific study, much less held to the standards for animal euthanasia.”[17] A series of “botched” executions, and fears that the paralytic agent only masked the convulsions and agony of the dying prisoner, led to complex situations of litigation that have slowed the number of executions in recent years. Historian Austin Sarat has documented that seven percent of lethal injection executions have been botched, higher than any other method in American history, and more than twice the average of all methods.[18]

Chemical burns on the arms of Angel Diaz during his postmortem autopsy. The execution team had pushed the IV catheters through the veins into the underlying tissue, requiring a second dose of lethal drugs and 34 minutes before he died. Governor Jeb Bush responded by declaring a temporary moratorium on executions in Florida.

Chemical burns on the arms of Angel Diaz during his postmortem autopsy. The execution team had pushed the IV catheters through the veins into the underlying tissue, requiring a second dose of lethal drugs and 34 minutes before he died. Governor Jeb Bush responded by declaring a temporary moratorium on executions in Florida.[19]

Hospira, the supplier of thiopental, and later Lundbeck, the Danish manufacturer of its alternative, pentobarbital, refused to deliver the drugs for “off-label use” an embargo on the export of execution drugs was backed by the European Union, which is committed to the abolition of the death penalty.[20] This has contributed to a variety of changing state protocols for how to execute by lethal injection.[21]


A 2018 study discussed abuses of lethal injection in China – which executed more individuals in 2017 (“thousands” but does not release official figures) than the rest of the 22 countries combined who carried out capital punishment.[22] Unethical practices include inefficient anesthesia and hastily declaring death “immediately after cardiac and respiratory arrest” is initiated by the administration of the drug protocol, followed by the immediate procurement of organs for transplantation.[23]

The establishment of lethal injection as the method for capital punishment has raise crucial questions for medical practitioners, beginning with if it should ever be considered a medical procedure. Is assistance with an execution consistent with a doctor’s mandate to alleviate suffering? Or does participation by a physicians in a operation designed to kill, as one psychiatrist argues, “lend false credibility and a veneer of humanity to a practice that is anything but credible or humane”? [24] What Dr. Jonathan Groner calls the “Hippocratic Paradox” highlights the problem:  many states legally require medical professionals to supervise lethal injection to ensure a safe procedure, while, at the same time, many medical organizations have ruled that health personnel should play no role in administering the death penalty because it contravenes the oath to “do no harm.”[25] For example, the American Medical Association’s code stipulates that “a physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution” (and that organ donation is permissible only if the decision “was made before the prisoner the prisoner’s conviction.”)[26] Understanding the reality of how condemned prisoners die during execution is obstructed by secrecy statutes in many states that prevent the public disclosure of members of the execution team or the source of the drugs they used.

[1] Mark Cunningham and Mark Vigen. “Death Row Inmate Characteristics, Adjustment, and Confinement: A Critical Review of the Literature.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law 20 (2002): 191-210.

[2] Johnnie Gallemore and & James Panton.  “Inmate responses to lengthy death row confinement.”  American Journal of Psychiatry 129 (1972): 167-172.

[3] Mark Cunningham and Mark Vigen. “Without appointed counsel in capital postconvinction proceedings: the self-representation competency of Mississippi death row inmates.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 26 (1999): 293-321.

[4] Michael Mellow. “Facing death alone: the post-convinction attorney crisis on death row.”  American University Law Review 37(1988): 513-607.

[5] Eric Neumayer. “Death Penalty: The Political Foundations of the Global Trend Towards Abolition.”  Human Rights Review No. 9 (2008):241-268.

[6] Lincoln Caplan. ”The Growing Gap Between the US and the International Anti-Death-Penalty Consensus,” The New Yorker, December 31, 2016.

[7] Amnesty International, “The Death Penalty: An International Perspective.”, Accessed January 3, 2018.

[8] Pew Research Center. “Political Survey on the Death Penalty.“ (April 25-May 1, 2018).

[9] James Unnever and Francis Cullen. “Reassessing the Racial Divide in Support for Capital Punishment: The Continuing Significance of Race.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency No. 44 (2007):124-158.

[10] James Unnever, Francis Cullen, and Cheryl Lero Jonson. “Race, Racism, and Support for Capital Punishment.”  Crime and Justice No. 1(2008):45-96.

[11] Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat, eds. From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America. (New York University Press, 2006).

[12] David Embrick. 2015. “Two Nations, Revisited: The Lynching of Black and Brown Bodies, Police Brutality, and Racial Control in “Post-Racial” Amerikkka.”  Critical Sociology No. 41(835-843).

[13] Ryan King, Robert Baller, and Steven Messner. “Contemporary Hate Crimes, Law Enforcement, and the Legacy of Racial Violence.” American Sociological Review No. 74:291-315.

[14] Timothy Kaufman-Osborn. “Capital Punishment as Legal Lynching.” In From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America. (New York University Press, 2000).

[15] Austin Sarat, When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition (Princeton University Press, 2002)

[16] Max Kutner, “Meet A. Jay Chapman, ‘Father of the Lethal Injection,” Newsweek, May 1, 2017,; Erd Pilkington, “it’s Problematic: Inventor of US Lethal Injection reveals Death Penalty Doubts,” The Guardian, April 29, 2015,

[17] Deborah W. Denno, “The Lethal Injection Quandary: How Medicine Has Dismantled the Death Penalty,” Fordham Law Review 76, no. 2 (2007): 70.

[18] Austin Saurat, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2014), 120. Greg Miller, “America’s Long and Gruesome History of Botched Executions,” Wired, May 12, 2014, For a description of botched executions from lethal injection see the list compiled by Prof. Michael L. Radelet at

[19] Ben Crair, “Photos from a Botched Legal Injection,” New Republic, May 29, 2014,

[20]Matt Ford, “Can Europe End the Death Penalty in America? The Atlantic, February 19, 2014,

[21] “State by State Lethal Injection,” Death Penalty Information Center,

[22] Samantha Herbert and Keely Lockhart. “Which Countries Executed the Most People Last Year,” and Why?” The Telegraph, April 12, 2018,

[23] Norbert W. Paul, et. al. “Determination of Death in Execution by Lethal Injection in China,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 27, No. 30 (July 2018): 464.

[24] Kerry J. Sulkowicz, “Doctors at an Execution? Medical Ethics Says No,” New York Times, April 25, 2017,

[25] Jonathan I. Groner, “The Hippocratic  Paradox: The Role of the Medical Profession in Capital Punishment in the United States,” Fordham Urban Law Journal 35, No. 4 (2008): 883-917,

[26] “Capital Punishment, Code of Medical Ethics opinion 9.7.3,” American Medical Association The definition of participation here does not include the certification of the actual death.

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