This course is jointly offered by a physician and a historian. We will discuss contemporary
questions of policy and practice: medical definitions of death; the “ right to die;” how we die
and how we say we want to die; the role of the hospital and the hospice; the functions of the
State in mediating between various views about the end of life; the role of doctors, family, and
others at the end of life, for example. We will also consider questions in the social and cultural
history of death: how and in what numbers people have died before and after the demographic
revolution; whether some cultures were more successful in assuaging the pain of death than
others, whether there really has been a secularization of death; where bodies have gone and how
they have been remembered; what the relationship is between the history of life and of death.
One of the instructors, Guy Micco, MD, was chair of the Alta Bates ethics committee for many
years and regularly teaches medical humanities as well as clinical courses in the Berkeley-UCSF
Joint Medical Program. The other instructor, Thomas Laqueur, has taught about the history of
the body in various contexts and is completing a book on the history of death called The Dead
Among the Living.