Skip to main content
Unit of study_

Death Law - LAWS6889

Year - 2020

Western attitudes toward death have undergone a remarkable transformation in the last century. For many, death now takes place in the hospital or the hospice following the decision of a doctor to cease providing treatment. As the management of death has passed from the family to health care professionals, it now makes sense to regard the moment and circumstances of death as largely medical phenomena. Moreover, as 'autonomy' has taken a dominant place amongst ethical values, it also makes sense to describe and measure death in terms of its 'acceptability' both to the dying person and his or her survivors. In tandem with these changes, technological innovations have transformed the dead or dying body into a potential source of valuable (and recyclable) biological material. These developments have thrown up new and urgent challenges for legal understandings about the timing of, and criminal responsibility for causing, death both within and outside medical settings. These developments have also disturbed conventional understandings of the corpse as sacred. Topics to be covered may include: death in contemporary Australia, the legal definition of life and death, medical futility and the concept of 'lives not worth living', euthanasia (with and without request), physician-assisted suicide, refusing and withholding life-prolonging treatment in adults and children, the Shipman/Patel scandals, ownership of the corpse and body parts, dead donor organ transplantation, organ sale and theft, posthumous reproduction, 'mercy' killing outside medical settings and the jurisdiction of the Coroner. The unit will interrogate these and other contemporary challenges for the law relating to death and dying both within Australia and, where appropriate, other selected comparator jurisdictions (US, UK and Canada). These will be mapped against socio-historical understandings of the changing meaning of death, dying and serious disability in Western societies, and students will be encouraged to reflect on the broader legal implications of these developments.

May 14, 15 & 28, 29 (9-5)

class presentation (20%) and assignment or 7000wd essay (80%)

Additional information
Academic Profile The unit is also available on a Continuing Professional Development basis


Faculty: Sydney Law School

Intensive June

25 May 2020

Department/School: Law
Study Mode: Block mode
Census Date: 12 Jun 2020
Unit of study level: Postgraduate
Credit points: 6.0
EFTSL: 0.125
Available for study abroad and exchange: No
Faculty/department permission required? Yes
More details
Unit of Study coordinator: Prof Cameron Stewart
HECS Band: 3
Courses that offer this unit

Non-award/non-degree study If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student. Cross-institutional study If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to undertake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.