Respect For The Dead

When an animal dies, it is forgotten and its burial place is lost. However, this is not the case with a human being. Are the people who do not preserve the memories and tombs of their ancestors aware that they reduce them to the rank of animals? Respect for the dead means a security granted to the living concerning their own future.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

2299: The dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace. They will be helped by the prayer of their relatives, who must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God.

2300: The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949), Article 27

Cemetery Graves Soldiers Dead Tombstones Death


Dear philosophers, why should we respect the dead?

First, because they want to be respected. Sure, being dead, they do not want this now. But they did want it when they were alive — just as you now want to be respected after your death. Imagine you have a certain deeply embarrassing secret that only your best friend knows. You very strongly want no one else to know. This fact gives your best friend a weighty reason not to tell others, even when she can do so in a way that you will never find out about. This reason may disappear when you change so that you no longer mind others knowing. But it persists when you die without having changed your mind — or so one could hold.

Second, because respecting the dead makes their lives better. The quality of our lives depends not merely on our mental states but also on our contributions to the world. These contributions can continue when we die: composers, artists, and novelists enrich many lives even after they die, and this in turn makes their own lives more valuable. Not respecting the dead, e.g. by obliterating their work or memory, can cut off such posthumous contributions and thereby reduce the value of the dead person’s life (relative to what it otherwise would have been).

Third, because respecting the dead is a practice from which the living benefit. Here I am not referring to the benefit of ourselves being respected after we die (else I would just be repeating points 1 and 2). Rather, I am thinking of how we living would alter our conduct, in ways that are bad for all of us, if we believed that, once dead, we would no longer be respected. For example, we would expend much worry and effort on trying to ensure that our assets go where we want them to go. If a last will and testament cannot ensure this (because it would not be respected), then many will dispose of their assets before they die, often becoming very poor or dependent on support from friends, family, or the state. So you benefit now from the fact that you and others live in the secure knowledge that your/their last will is going to be respected. You benefit in that you need not worry about or implement the proper disposition of your assets now and also in that you need not deal with the additional poverty and other problems that would result from others’ early disposition of their assets.



Respect for the dead

“In our culture, we don’t speak ill of the dead. When a person dies, we just set aside the wrongs that person may have done. In short, we respect the dead whoever they are.

Some even venerate the dead, believing that they continue to exist in another side of life and that they can intercede for us with God. In times of trouble, we call on our loved ones who have passed on for help.

By respecting the dead, we are somehow respecting life as well especially when the dead has touched many other people’s lives. We recognize their good deeds so that others may look up to them as idols or good examples. We learn from the mistakes of the bad ones so that we could have a more meaningful life.

Others believe that by respecting the dead, we spare their family some grief, or at least console them in their time of mourning.

Most of us think that it is in bad taste to hold or attend parties when a relative is dead. We are supposed to mourn, and not celebrate when a loved one dies.

During wakes, we pay our last respects to the dead. That is why wakes often become opportunities for relatives and friends to see one another after a long time. During necrological services, we speak or hear only the good, sometimes a few naughty, things about the dead, but rarely, or maybe never, the bad side.

There is a proverbial saying that you never speak ill of the dead. In the 6th century, the version was “speak no evil of the dead.”

We don’t speak ill of the dead because they are already dead; they can no longer defend themselves. We show respect by saying only positive and kind things about the dead.

In Latin, it was phrased as “de mortuis nil nisi bonum,” translated as, “say nothing of the dead but what is good.””



Humanity after life: Respecting and Protecting the Dead

When people die during armed conflicts, situations of violence falling below the threshold of armed conflict, disasters, or while migrating, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity; and the remains of unknown individuals must be identified. Lack of respect for international and domestic obligations and poor adherence to international and national standards, policies, practices on managing the dead can increase the number of missing persons, disrespects the deceased person and the rights and needs of their relatives and prolongs their suffering.

International humanitarian law (IHL) is a set of rules that applies in times of armed conflict and seeks – for humanitarian reasons – to protect persons who are not, or are no longer directly participating in hostilities, and to restrict means and methods of warfare. Throughout history, the treatment of the dead in times of armed conflict has been a subject of concern, pronounced on by all cultures and religions. IHL has also a long history of regulating the respect for and protection of the dead. In particular, IHL requires that the remains of those who have died during an armed conflict be handled with dignity and be properly managed. It also requires that they be searched for, collected and evacuated, which helps ensure that people do not go missing.

Other branches of international law such as international human rights law and international disaster response law, contain important provisions to ensure that the dead are managed in a proper and dignified manner and to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons not only in armed conflicts but also in other circumstances such as the ones mentioned above.

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