Disaster victim identification and the role of the dead body

This post doc project identifed and explore the ethical questions that concern the dead body, body parts, and fragments related to Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) by using philosophical analysis of basic concepts, arguments, and ethical principles.

In the aftermath of a mass fatality event (plane crash, tsunami or terrorist attack) there are considerable efforts put in to identify the victims, known as Disaster Victim Identification (DVI). DNA technologies have the advantage of identifying severely burned or fragmented human remains, but are costly, time-consuming, and raise some ethical questions. These ethical questions have yet to be explored.

The Interpol resolution on DVI states that "for legal, religious, cultural and other reasons, human beings have the right not to lose their identities after death". Does this necessarily mean a right to have one´s body identified? What is the purpose of identifying small fragments down to 1 cm of a dead person? What are the ethical implications for the next-of-kin when major DVI efforts are put in? Is identification of all fragments, this effort to reunite the body, necessary to achieve respect for the dead? How is the dead body viewed in other contexts, e.g. organ donation, where it may be seen as acceptable to “violate” the same integrity of the dead body? These questions are important because different stakeholders may have conflicting interests, and ethical aspects need to be identified, critically examined and discussed.


Emil och Ragna Börjessons minnesfond


Malin Masterton started her post-doc on disaster victim identification at CRB in 2012, in 2013 she moved the project to the health care services research group at the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University. Malin Masterton defended her PhD thesis "Duties to Past Persons: Moral Standing and Posthumous Interests of Old Human Remains" at CRB in 2010.


Jackie Leach Scully, Professor of Bioethics, PEALS (Policy, Ethics & Life Sciences) Research Centre, Newcastle University.